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Conversation with Anne Stewart and Josie Gardner

Submitted by Caroline Rensel on July 29, 2021 - 4:18pm

 In winter 2019, Director of Engagement Holly Arsenault sat down with Anne Stewart and Josie Gardner prior to their retirements from the School of Drama after more than 30 years. 

Holly: My first question is to tell me your origin story with the school of drama

Josie: I did my MFA at UCLA in costume design and there was this student who came my second year who had been in the program up here and left. Her name was Elaine Ramirez, we were best friends and we did everything together. When she found out I was leaving California and was going to move up here she said, “you must call Bill Forester, Bill is a good guy.” So once we got settled and I had worked at the Seattle Rep for a while and I worked at ACT, I gave Bill a call and he said “well lets get together for coffee” and I said, “that’s great I don’t know any place but do you want to come over to my house?” So he did, and he said “Do you have a portfolio?” and I said “yeah do you want to see it?” and I took it all out, spread it all out on to the dining room table and he said “this is really good, do you want a job?” At that point in ‘83 they needed someone to fill in faculty for Spring quarter; it was designing and teaching 211. And you know I was 26, 27? And we were in the old drama TV building and I walked in as the new faculty member and everybody was three times as old as I was at that point, but we had a great time and I said “I love this, I just absolutely love this.”

I stayed that quarter and then Sarah (Nash Gates) came and I’d gone to Cornish. My husband was transitioning with his job and I needed to work full time. Downstairs, the costumer position was open and I said “I’ll do it, it’s 9 months I can still design, I’ll do it.” In February, Jimmy Walford who had been running the shop put his notice in. And they were searching and I remember going into Sarah’s office and I said “listen this is stupid, just promote me” and she said “well I’ll have to think about that.” And the next day, she said “I thought about it and you’re right.” And so I had 8 hours with Jimmy to learn his job and then he left and I moved into the costume shop supervisor rank. So that was in ‘90 that was I guess it would have been ‘91 and I have been doing it ever since.

Holly: When you took that job, how long did you think you would stay in that job?

Josie: Oh man, I didn’t even think…that was never a thought. I just never thought about it doing anything else. It was a great job and I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Holly: Is there anything that Jimmy told you during that 8 hours that turned out to be true or that you thought about?

Josie: No, he was not that kind of guy. I remember him showing me how to fill out a work study form and how to run the mimeo machine which I still have no idea how to do that, I always messed it up.

Holly: So you really had to make your own way?

Josie: I kind of established what I thought it should be and I ran the shop. I had been around enough where I would think about things a lot and then decide what needed to be done. The commute helps because I do a lot of thinking while I’m driving. Running scenarios in your head about, “what if we do this? What do you think about this?” Anyways, that’s how I got here.

Anne: I was at the Empty Space as the production stage manager. There I did mostly Burke shows but also did park shows and I’ve always been good at parties. I ran the gala for the opening of the Merrill Place. When we moved to Merrill Place I was doing K2 during the day.

Holly: What’s K2?

Anne: K2 is a play, where they climb K2. We did it at Broadway performance hall, it was stunning. Scott Weldin did the set, Alan [Weldin] actually did the rig work. The way I knew Alan was that I knew Alan was Scott’s brother. So we were doing K2 in the summer and moving the theater so I was on the moving crew during the day and running K2 at night. K2 was a huge success, it was a stunning production.

Holly: What year was this?

Anne: That was ‘84 and at the same time we were getting the theatre ready so I was painting. Kirk Baily and I were painting the lobby and the stairways and the bathrooms and then we moved the shop over. We borrowed a truck to move the table saws and everything over to the theatre and got it set up.

Holly: Which space is this?

 Anne: Merrill Space downtown, the one on First and Jackson.

 Holly: Oh right.

Anne: I was stage managing K2 and trying to get ready for the big opening gala party. I did decorations, I made sure the curtains got hung, the lights were hung for the performances. I went to change my clothes and a board member came with a bag of 16th inch glitter and made a path on the brand new carpet through the theatre. I still have glitter embedded in those shoes and getting that glitter out of that carpet… oh my gosh there was glitter everywhere. So we opened that October 4th and then we were in rehearsal, it’s a big musical and it’s being rewritten and I was the only one with an original script left. Even the playwrights didn’t have an accurate script. Anyway it was great fun, very funny show but we were also opening a theatre and it nearly killed us. I know that Jim Clowny has pictures of us around that time and we all look like we are 45 years old but we opened it. So I did that and then the rest of the season we had another show. Forester, who I had done 4 or 5 shows with at that point, said there is this great job at the UW. And I was exhausted I was supposed to do Execution of Justice later that Spring and I had already worked with Emily Mann a couple of times. So Forester said to come interview for the job and I did I interviewed with Betty Comtois.

Holly: So who hired you? Betty hired you?

Anne: Betty hired me.

Holly: And who trained you?

Anne: Nobody trained me, my keys were sitting on my desk and Sonia was gone and I walked in and figured it out myself and made the job what I thought it should be. It was awkward because the costume shop wasn’t here yet. The drama library was still drama TV. Bob Hobbs was the head of the PATP and they did 3 shows a quarter. They did a combined show, a second year show, and a third year show every quarter. And they rehearsed from like 3 in the afternoon, they’d be in class from like 7 in the morning to 3 except for those folks who taught, and there were like 16 to 17 in that class so it was huge. And he was revered by his students I mean his students just adored him. I found him overbearing but I am not an actor. He was one of those people that got in your face, he had no bubble.

Holly: And when you read the things that were written about him it was clear that he was that kind of person to break them down and build them back up.  When you started working here how long did you think you would stay?

Anne: Maybe three or four years. I was 29 but I had no responsibilities, I had a cat. The thing that was nice was that I had a weekend for the first time in my life because I had only ever done theatre. And so I had a weekend and then that concept was like...

Josie: working 9 to 5.

Anne: and even then I was working mostly till 7. And we had far more techs and I started going to techs. And that was another thing, no one would go to tech and I would be like “what do you mean no one is at tech watching what the students are doing?”. And I remember the first year The Circle the first show and then we ended the year with Portrait of Dora.  And something else, there were the four shows and then the opera. And it was like Oh my God. And then they were building Operas during the academic year. So part of the things that we started seeing was that building the opera during the academic year was insane. I did not like the rehearsal schedule, I thought that they were keeping them until midnight or after. And I said that just cannot be done. There was a good group of stage managers and my goal at that point was to get the production schedule into something that was reasonable so that the kids who were getting home at night weren’t getting sick with that many shows. Trying to figure out how do it because some shows were three nights, we did some shows for five nights so it was all sort of crazy. And trying to get that organized and at the end of that year we did a little moratorium on opera until we could get opera out of the season. It was too much because at the same time we lost the Showboat Theatre and so we were just getting the Studio set up. It was my idea to build the operas in the summer and that way we can increase the amount of money for the shop staff. We can extend their contacts to be like 10 or 12 months.  There was just so much to do and once we moved opera it worked beautifully for 25, 30 years.

Josie: The costume shop did the same, you know, we did three operas. We worked with music, there was the fall opera that was intended to be a little smaller. There were opera scenes, we produced opera scenes in the winter quarter and then there was supposed to be a blowout opera.

Anne: And sometimes we did two big operas.

Josie: Yeah and sometimes we did two, it kind of depended on chorus and who was available. The principles would start rehearsing in the summer so we could build principles which gave the staff an extra month of work.

Anne: Yeah so that was a good thing.

Josie: That was nice, yeah I think those are some of the more memorable productions too as far as technically that I can remember.

Anne:. But those were long techs because those were all weekend it was Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.

Josie: Oh my gosh that’s right we did all day Saturday.

Anne: We did all day Saturday, we did all day Sunday and then Monday and Tuesday and then I think we opened like on Wednesday. So it was intense in the middle of everything and sometimes we had other shows in tech so you’d be in the opera room and then you’d run to the other theatre and take a nap. But once Hobbs left I got rid of the afternoon rehearsals. And then Jack Clay was hired.

Josie: He had a great vision for this place and he really understood what could be done, and what couldn’t be done. I never felt like he felt restricted or limited by what was here.  I always remember him saying his actors had to have like a kit costume that they had to find somebody to make for them and it was a skirt that became a cape so in other words he didn’t care whether they had access to the costume shop because they had this and this is all they needed. And they owned it so at that point they could work the way they knew how to work with it. And it was kind of great.

Anne: Yeah it was very classical training again, break them down. The first year they all cried, they all wept. And their first show their second year was always awful but then by the second show their second year it was great. It was like you really saw that first show like oh God none of these people can act. And then suddenly it was like the light turned on.  But he was good about with design and stuff with props and stuff about what reality was and he was good about they didn’t complain about stage managers that came later all that whining stuff that made me crazy about why don’t we have professional stage managers. Because if you want to pay for them we’ll get them and actually I don’t think professional stage managers do as good a job as a committed undergraduate.

Josie: It used to be that all of the directors had to stage manage.

Holly: What do you think is the biggest difference from working in a theatre and working in a theatre school? 

Anne: Well I think most of it has to do with stuff that has to do with the bureaucracy of the educational institution. I have a different role here than I did in a professional theatre but basically the main difference is number one you have a more stagehands so you can do something that requires a lot of hands. It’s funny, when I came getting something paid was the biggest pain. And that was the biggest thing I had to get used to is how far in advance I had to plan everything out for royalties for that kind of stuff. But trying to get people paid was the hardest thing I had.

Josie: Well I think it’s kind of the amount of teaching that goes on is surprising. And it’s more of a passive teaching so it’s more of a one on one let me show you how to do this. Where when you are in the professional theatre you don’t have time for that and here you have to make time with them doing that. I was able to be a lot more hands on which as a creative person is also necessary you know that way with what happened in the shop. I was very often the dyer not only because you know there’s nobody else to do it but I didn’t have time to teach someone so it was like okay I’ll do it myself.

Anne: See for me it was a little bit the opposite because maybe there were  more kids at  The Empty Space. My first job out of college was at a Camry festival theatre in Chicago. Where I was working with Irene Worth and Lynn Redgrave and people that ilk. And then going to the Empty Space which was more entry level, so it was an awful lot of teaching with crews It was their 10th anniversary so they were still fairly young organization. They were just starting and that was one of the reasons I was hired was to help them. I was hired to do some of the financial systems for the box office. And the reporting so that it was legal with Equity. And then the deal was I’d get my Equity card. So it was dealing with crews and training them, which was not that different from what I was dealing with at the space at some extent but more of them and more often. But one of the things I really tried to do was bring the rule book. So I had to help write the small professional theatre rule book. I was on a committee with equity to help write that book. So I brought a lot of that with me to tried and instill it. I mean there wasn’t rules about breaks. You know there didn’t used to be breaks, there didn’t used to be. You had notes until midnight or one or two in the morning.

Josie: Also I find that you develop friendships with students. So in other words when you get that letter two years after they graduated and they tell you, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” And they keep in touch with you more so than you do in a professional theatre. So they do establish things like that and you do care about these people that come through the program in a very genuine way more so than if it was (inaudible)professional because you do realize you have impact in their life in that way.

Anne: The number of students who spend hours sitting in the chair in my office. The stage managers all used to hang out there because that was their one computer that they could use and do their notes on dido. And so I would always have a couple directors and stage managers in my office. Now that 290 signups are online it’s like, I liked having the students come in and getting to know who the student was. I mean that’s one of the reasons why I am retiring is all that stuff. I mean I even miss the students, the 101 students outside my office coming in.

Josie: I mean you want to find out who they are and what they are studying and possibly share some of the magic with them about what really happens on stage.

Holly: How has the school has changed, how students have changed? I mean you talked already a lot about how the school has changed actually it’s a natural part of telling the story but like how has training changed? How have students changed?

Anne:  Well I’ve seen four or five change of chairs. But even within the change of chairs then the acting probably because the acting training program… because it’s such a front porch of the school, such a focus of the school naturally because that’s what people are interested in. And as the trainings have changed, the students have changed. Bob Hobbs students were similar to Jacks in some ways in which he would cast a class of people and they were very much cast to the contemporary or to a classical repertory. And same thing with Jack he would take like 8 men and 6 woman, he would always have a leading lady.

Josie:  They used to do rotations so you would be doing Shakespeare every three years.

Anne: Well it was more classical and because of the fact that they took a class that you could cast in the classical repertory. You weren’t trying to do the even eight names or three and three. Which were very hard in doing, even contemporary plays. I mean the plays are not written for quality which is why we’ve done the work room 16 times. So the compositions of those classes changed and as they get smaller and smaller. And the people that Jack took were very different from the people Steve Pearson and Robyn Hunt took, physically they were very different.

Josie: So I really think back to the early, early days and looking through the programs and trying to remember the designers, what the designs looked like. So early on in my early time the designer was expected to participate with the production.