Nestled on 11th and Pike since 2007, Annex Theatre is celebrating its twenty-fifth season. Their current space is the former home of the Northwest Actor’s Studio, and far from Annex’s first home. Starting out on Bainbridge Island in 1986, it then moved to Belltown in 1998. In 2001 the Annex went itinerant, rogue. Between 2001 and 2007 Annex put on shows at theaters all over seattle until finally finding a home on the Hill.
Pamala Mijatov has been the artistic director for Annex since 2010, and she’s been on staff since 2001. “We’re the cockroaches,” she says. “We’re not pretty, but we’re impossible to kill.”
The entrance to the theater is on 11th, right around the corner from the skate shop 35th North, across the street diagonally from Value Village and The Stranger. There’s a black door below the Annex sign that opens to a staircase that leads you up to the theater.
Annex is kind of hidden as she sees it, but Mijatov looks forward to the corridor that’s going to be Theater Schmeater, Odd Duck, Annex Theater, and the 12th Ave Arts project. “A little ‘L’ of fringe theaters, which is exciting,” said Mijatov.
But Annex isn’t waiting around.
“We’re doing a season of shows that are amazing shows in their own right, but are also companies and artists who we’ve helped build their careers,” said Mijatov. The first of these shows was Cocktails at the Centre of the Earth, written and directed by Annex newcomer Simon Astor. It’s a steampunk romp that starts in an airship and ends in hell. It has a big cast, a band on stage, and lots of scene changes. On opening night, Mijatov introduced Cocktails. She emphasized the scale and said that while other theaters are scaling back with one man shows, Annex is continuing to put on shows with big casts, new material, hard work — the stuff she sees theater being all about.
“Every single piece we do is sort of re-inventing the wheel,” said Mijatov. That means a new script, new casting, directing, new set, etc. They try to make the shows consist of a good mix of Annex veterans and new people to insure the health of the company. The first two shows for this season were largely new people to Annex, the season will conclude with shows put on by old friends
Like most fringe theaters, Annex is run almost entirely by volunteers. Their selection process is the following: they put out an open request for proposals to anybody, anywhere. They invite pitches, then the company gets together and they argue for which ones they want. Like a caucus.
“We do entirely new scripts,” said Mijatov. “Almost entirely world-premieres.”
Annex decides what to produce each season, and more often than not, the shows are comedies. Mijatov contends that comedy is fun to produce, work on, and it’s what the audiences seem to want. What’s working for Annex is to continue with live theater that often shoots for laughs, along with recurring monthly shows where laughter is the explicit goal. Weird and Awesome with Emmett Mongomery goes for strange laughs on first Sundays. Spin the Bottle, on first Fridays, is said to be the longest running cabaret show on the Hill.
The next play to open is Team of Heroes, April 20th. Directed by Jaime Roberts and written by Alex Harris. Most shows are 10 bucks, but Annex also offers a $25/month pass to every show they put on. They call it the A-List. Tickets and A-List memberships can be purchased on Annex’s website, and they sell tickets at the door on show nights.
Their current home is not perfect. “It’s a very awkward venue,” said Mijatov. “It has no waiting space, it has low ceilings.” They’ve put a lot of energy and resources into improvements, but it is what it is. Shortly after moving in they put several tons of drywall and insulation into the ceiling. They know that they need another bathroom, but it’s not physically possible in the space. Still though, you kind of want your fringe theater a little rough around the edges. “You don’t want a space that’s polished, too new, too shiny,” said Mijatov. “Because we are a very funky messy dirty process.”
There are other benefits to budget constraints. “Because we’re not beholden to big donors we don’t have to please any one person,” said Mijatov. They don’t have to worry about being too risky, or too weird, or too offensive. Put out good work, Mijatov says, and hope it finds an audience.