Samie Spring Detzer is a true Seattleite. She grew up just north of the city and moved here to attend Cornish College of the Arts where she graduated with a BFA in theatre and original works. She’s the Artistic Director of Washington Ensemble Theatre, but always identifies as an actor first, theatre administrator second. She joined the ensemble of WET six years ago and has performed in at least one show a season ever since. This season, she’ll be directing Monstrosityby Lucy Thurber—a co-production between the University of Washington and WET. We had the pleasure of talking to her about WET’s fourteenth season, being an artist in Seattle, and what makes her “an opinionated, loud-mouthed, head-bitch-in-charge” in everything she does.
You’ve got an incredible season lined up for Washington Ensemble Theatre. What does your season planning process look like?
There’s a saying in the company that “WET is the people in room.” It’s a way to get folks to stay invested and connected to running every aspect of the company. But I also really believe that “WET is the season we produce.” While the dynamic of how the ensemble operates has morphed over the years, the one thing that is always decided as a group is season planning. We read plays all year long and then we go on a winter retreat together to create the season. It’s three days of drinking, reading, and fighting for the plays we want. We aren’t allowed to leave without a season. In the Ensemble, plays must be visually stimulating, thematically complex, and socially conscious. Our season planning weekend is about holding ourselves accountable to that vision and falling in love with the plays we choose.
The season feels uniquely Seattle. What drew you to each of these plays?
These plays have all had successful runs elsewhere, but they also are all very polarizing pieces, and in some ways that can be seen as confrontational. As a company, we have a desire to find plays that wouldn’t be done at any other theater in Seattle. In fact, two of these plays have gone through a few major Seattle theatre companies but never got picked up. One thing I love about WET is that our biggest fans hate about half of what we do. It means we’re making art that is imperfect and complicated, and that’s the goal.
The Nether feels especially relevant in Seattle’s booming tech sphere. What are you hoping this will mean for your audiences?
You’re right that this city is dealing with how to engage with the young, tech savvy demographic that has very quickly moved into our bars, apartments, and taken a bit of our community culture. I wouldn’t say we set out to pull in that audience, but WET has the benefit of being a company of millennials—with all the drive, self-importance, fearlessness, and digital literacy that comes with that. I think what we do implicitly draws a young, visionary crowd.
What excites you most about being an artist in Seattle?
The truth is I’m afraid most of what I love about being a Seattle artist is slowly getting priced out, modified, and gentrified, to the point that much of the city feels different to me. I do love this place and I’d be lying if I didn’t say what excites me most is that I’m holding out until the bubble bursts and we get to be a small-town big-city again. In the meantime, the food is good, the outdoors are beautiful and it’s given me and many other folks a place to be an artist.
How do you hope to grow and challenge the theatre community here in Seattle?
I hope that WET will continue to expand Seattle’s notion of “a well-made play.” I find Aristotelian-centric theater tired. I prefer an epic slow burn or a firecracker. Surprise me, challenge me, indict me, but never bore me, please! I also think WET, like a few other companies here, has begun to really embrace using politics, equity and social justice to strengthen the art. More of that, please.
Are there any musicians, dancers, or theatre artists that you’re especially excited about this season? Who are you excited to see?
There are so many awesome artists working on this season. We have Sara Porkalob, Jennifer Zeyl, and Frank Boyd all working on Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Then we’ll end with ensemble member Bobbin Ramsey directing on The Nether, which will blow your mind. There are so many amazing artists joining us, too many to name. Offering artists opportunities is the best part of my job.
How can folks find more about you and your work?