In June 2020, one of the best Equity-caliber theatres in America committed creative suicide in the name of ‘racial equity’ as the grotesque delirium of anti-white hysteria spread from the streets onto the stage
A reflection from the footlights
By Mark Cromer
“Village Theatre needs to rebuild the trust we have broken…We are interrogating processes and cultural norms, and talking about implicit bias and racism as pervasive phenomena. We are admitting complicity. Most importantly, we are committing the full organization to specific actions and systemic change…We commit to continuing Village [Theatre’s] work toward becoming an anti-racist organization in the long-term, not only when the struggle for racial justice makes headlines but all the time.”
— Executive Producer Robb Hunt & Artistic Director Jerry Dixon of the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington, June 26, 2020
I’ll never forget the first play I saw at the Village Theatre.
It was a production of No Way to Treat a Lady, Douglas J. Cohen’s musical adaptation of William Goldman’s 1964 pulp novel (published under the pen name ‘Harry Longbaugh,’ the actual name of the fabled American outlaw The Sundance Kid) that was inspired by the Boston Strangler murders and it proved resiliently engaging more than a half-century after Goldman had first hammered the story out in a creative frenzy that began as an exercise to get him around writer’s block.
The dark comedy played quite well onstage at the 500-seat theatre where director Steve Tomkins treatment of Cohen’s work (Cohen attended the early 2015 rehearsals for the Issaquah theatre’s revival of the musical) unfolded with precision pacing that balanced noirish suspense with a brisk enough clip to effectively build tension as the murder and absurdity mounted. Propelled by a solid Equity cast, the musical, which Goldman had given his blessing to Cohen to write, was well received across its nine-week run.
Seven years later and that sort of organic playgoing experience at the Village Theatre is simply as graveyard dead as the strangler’s victims—killed in the summer of 2020 primarily by the man who started it all, with a short-time sidekick sharing some of the grim credit for snuffing out the theatre’s creative life and freedom.
It was a grievous self-inflicted wound and one made all the more deadly by the two weeks-turned-two years of closures championed by the maskers in spite of science and common sense.
It did not have to be this way.
Executive Producer Robb Hunt’s 43-year-run at the playhouse came to an end on July 10, following the final Sunday performance of the season closer Mamma Mia!, and with that the curtain fell on his tenure in the wheelhouse of the theatre that he co-founded in the late 1970s. It should have been a sublime and uniquely satisfying sendoff for Hunt, one marked by his building the theatre into a playhouse with a national reputation and fueled by a $15 million annual budget, more than 170 employees and a deep register of rave reviews and loyal subscribers.
Instead, his legacy will be that of surrendering the Village Theatre’s artistic freedom and creative space to the psychotic whims of progressive cultists, gleefully sacrificing it to a lockstep sociopolitical organization, one that saw Hunt lead its executive staff in a ritual of self-defilement and, of course, figuratively spitting into the faces of its longstanding base of patrons—which is to say the dreaded white people.
Indeed, the production of the final show in the theatre’s somewhat abbreviated 2022 season that sent Hunt off was a reboot of Mamma Mia!, the hit musical based around the songs of the Swedish band ABBA that was naturally recast almost exclusively with black actors in keeping with the Village Theatre’s new priority of transitioning from established playhouse to progressive public address system hellbent on weeding out whites and their hated ‘whiteness.’
Director Faith Bennett Russell, who describes herself first and foremost as a black activist for racial justice, said of the show: “We’re going to breathe new life into this production of Mamma Mia! by reimagining what it could and should look like today…I am rooting one of our themes in the West African word, ‘Sankofa.’ A simple translation means to ‘retrieve’ or ‘go get it’.”
A musical based around a Swedish band that opened on London’s West End in 1999 is now racially rebooted just two decades later in compliance with: “what it could and should look like today.”
That pretty much says it all.
So I have to wonder how No Way to Treat a Lady would play onstage at the Village Theatre today—or even if it could—given Hunt and Dixon’s shrieking declaration of universal white guilt that the pair published following what must have been an epic multi-day struggle session for Hunt as the riots carried out under the ruse of George Floyd’s death burned entire city blocks to the ground while violent shakedowns by the BLM/1619 racket triggered the panic purchasing of corporate indulgences to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. (Note: Dixon is black, so he was likely Hunt’s sherpa through his trek in search of self-loathing.)
Considering the radical Left terror attacks unleased by Antifa and associated street criminals that held Seattle neighborhoods hostage during the summer of 2020—the black-garbed goon squad also appeared in the small, riverside town of Snohomish, where masked thugs sought to terrorize the Seattle Chief of Police (who happened to be a black woman) and her neighbors after they learned where she lived—it might be reasonable to conclude that Hunt and Dixon were merely trying to blend in with the mob amidst the cacophony of hysteria and in the process buy some time before their theatre was burned to the ground for lack of sufficient obedience to progressive Left cultural dogma.
But the speed with which Hunt and Dixon issued their public confession—which also served as a mass indictment of the Village Theatre’s patrons—and the unflinching tone of their Jonestown-grade submission to drink the anti-white Kool-Aid that ‘Ibram X. Kendi’ (real name Henry Rogers) and Robin DiAngelo have long ladled out of their poisonous progressive punchbowl suggests that they had indeed become proverbial true believers committed to turning the Village Theatre into a People’s Temple production.
Throughout their more than 2,500-word self-immolation, Hunt and Dixon were careful to employ the required boilerplate vernacular that is the anti-white cult-speak of the progressive Left today; making glassy-eyed vows to put in “the work” and “making sure our organizational culture allows all people to feel safe, feel seen and bring their full authentic selves to work” while peppering it with the mandatory references to ‘BIPOC’ (black, indigenous and so-called ‘peoples of color’) and ‘EDI’ (the holy trinity of the progressive Left today: ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’) all while contemptuously castigating the overwhelmingly white population of patrons that had supported the theatre for more than four decades.
Hunt and Dixon’s regurgitation of such scripted psychobabble is now the signature of total commitment among the progressive Left, they are buzzwords and slogans that are meant to be repeated in a hostage-note fashion, renditions of which must never be interrupted let alone have their meaning questioned or their premise challenged. For if Hunt or Dixon were asked to coherently explain just how the theatre’s organizational structure could somehow make actors, stagehands, musicians, administrative staff and patrons “feel unsafe,” well, it’s a safe bet they’d deflect the question with an angry, finger-jabbing declaration that even asking such a thing is racist.
This is what the progressives today jubilantly declare: “Shutting it down!”
They can’t defend their asinine positions, so they have to ‘shut down’ any reasoned questioning or criticism.
Along with rushing out their mea culpa to the very masses they now so casually despise, Hunt and Dixon also committed themselves to an immediate reconstitution of the Village Theatre, which had been delighting audiences since 1979 (operating from its current location on Front Street in Issaquah’s old downtown since 1994), into a progressive pulpit where patrons guilty of horrific ‘whiteness’ could be properly chastised and, over the course of enough sermons and struggle sessions, converted into the cult or cast out. Accordingly, the pair announced that from June 2020 onward that the single most fundamental factor informing the creative process and philosophy at the theatre would be whether it met a sufficiently ‘antiracist’ threshold.
Effectively denouncing authentic stagecraft, story-telling and actual acting talent as hallmarks of white supremacy, Hunt and Dixon declared:
“The first, most fundamental action will be to hear directly from BIPOC, listen to their experiences and needs, and create systems of accountability to the BIPOC community. We will immediately identify and hire a racial equity/anti-racism planning specialist to guide a group that includes diverse staff, board, students, and artists, and to coordinate with our existing EDI committee. The group will deconstruct and reconstruct the existing racial equity action plan used by our youth education department to ensure it encompasses all aspects of Village Theatre and meets the actual needs of our BIPOC community. This will not be a place to educate white people (which is also necessary but will happen in separate ways that do not burden BIPOC).”
The last sentence was also cribbed directly from the talking points of both DiAngelo and ‘Kendi’ (again, real name Henry Rogers), who insist that being anything but white is simply exhausting in America and it behooves whites to simply accept their collective guilt and prepare themselves for hardcore reeducation away from peoples of color who, obviously, are traumatized by the very presence of white people. This in fact is why ‘diversity’ today is measured not by an actual variety of racial, ethnic and religious groups or a balanced mix of the two genders, but rather is established by the lone metric of a presence or absence of whites. Thus, any given collection of people—from the cast of a play to the student body of a campus to the employees on a shop floor—are evaluated by progressives solely by its degree of ‘whiteness,’ insomuch as even if an assembly of people is comprised mostly of a single racial group that is nonwhite then it is still considered vibrantly diverse given its dearth of whites alone.
Diversity in the 21st Century has become a codeword for elimination, not inclusion; a formula based around subtraction, not addition.
“We recommit to diversifying Village’s audience, and to expanding the perspectives of our current audience. Our audience, like many in the American theatre, is predominantly white and does not reflect our region’s diversity,” Hunt and Dixon wrote. “Village’s responsibility here is twofold: to make our audience more representative, and to use art and storytelling to broaden the worldview of our existing patron base.”
Like so much of their manifesto, the assertion that the patron base of the Village Theatre is not racially representative of the region writ large is simply another falsehood on the face of it. The vast majority of the theatre’s paying customers—at least anecdotally speaking from my own experiences at the theatre—were overwhelmingly white, which is an accurate reflection of the town and region the Village Theatre serves as well as Washington state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 Issaquah was more than 63% white and just over 1% black, Seattle was 65% white and a little more than 7% black and Washington state was 77% white with blacks numbering a little more 4%.
So when Hunt and Dixon claim the theatre was not reflective of the region, they are either ill-informed of the actual demographics or, more likely it seems, flat out lying to advance their warped but all-consuming ethnopolitical agenda.
In a gleeful nod to the reemergence of a Black List era of censorship prior to publication or production, Hunt and Dixon vowed with boldfaced emphasis:
“We will enhance and formalize the structure for how scripts are reviewed. This will include creating a diverse external group specifically asked to read and consider each script with the lens of equity and anti-racism.”
So as of June 2020, every line uttered from the theatre’s stage has not just been approved by but in some cases actually rewritten by “an external group” of nameless, faceless commissars whose sole objective is to render the original author’s work sufficiently ‘antiracist’ for the new dark dawn at the Village Theatre.
Aside from the creative self-castration, Hunt and Dixon announced an impending racial purge among the theatre’s dedicated staff which, simply put, has been too white:
“We will dig much deeper to identify the culture and systems that perpetuate homogeneity, be honest about which perceived barriers to hiring POC are real vs. excuses, and adopt specific practices to increase representation in all areas of the organization. We don’t have quantifiable commitments yet (for example, X% staff/crew/production team BIPOC by X year), but we will conduct an organizational scan of where we currently are and then create goals for which the organization can be held accountable,” Hunt and Dixon wrote, adding that the first whiteout would naturally take place onstage: “For actors specifically, we commit to color-conscious casting in all mainstage productions, new works, and youth education programs/productions.”
It’s hard to overstate the utterly bizarre nature and profound depth of Hunt and Dixon’s proud announcement of their decision to creatively emasculate the Village Theatre in the name of progressive political purity—and their own racial profiling disguised as moral sermonizing.
I was a regular patron of the theatre for years up to June 2020 and like most other of its supporters I would never have imagined that the Village Theatre, at least as Hunt and Dixon tell it, was a sizable and critical cog in a vast if shadowy racist machine. I would never have suspected that the most rancid strains of racist hate hid behind every spotlight, lurked underneath the catwalks, boiled at the box office and percolated in the orchestra pit.
I certainly wasn’t aware that each time I would ease into my box seat to enjoy a Stoli and lime conveniently provided by neighboring Fins Bistro in special sipper cups embossed with the Village Theatre’s logo (as another handy revenue stream for the playhouse) and waited for the show to begin or continue that I was actually attending something as sinister as a Klan rally conducted under the cover of high culture and sans the nightly cross-burning if only to comply with Issaquah’s fire codes.
Indeed, I wonder if Fins Bistro was aware before June 2020 that by serving up pre-curtain and intermission drinks in the Village Theatre cups that their small but wonderful eatery was making itself accomplice to a historical and ongoing hate crime? I wonder if Hunt and Dixon met with the bistro’s owners (whom I’ve met on occasion, a lovely couple) to demand that it was time for Fins—which shares a building with the theatre and sports a portal allowing patrons easy access from the theatre to its bar—to “show up and put in the work” as a fellow committed “antiracist organization?”
Hunt and Dixon were absolutely adamant that the Village Theatre’s most fundamental mission going forward from June 2020 would have nothing to with producing great theater whatsoever, but rather proselytizing their progressive agenda targeting whites.
And the theatre would evangelize virtually everywhere and to everyone.
“We will embrace Village’s responsibility to help educate our patrons. This can, should, and will be done in many ways: program articles, lobby displays, blog posts, mailed newsletters, pre-performance emails, social media, facilitated talkbacks, and much more,” the pair wrote. “In addition to committing to more rigorous dramaturgical material on a show-by-show basis, we can and will be more present in ongoing industry and societal conversations about equity. Village has shied away from this in the past; going forward, silence is not an option….Staff are gathering and circulating many articles, book lists, videos, and more, with the intent to create a resource library and to share some of that material with our patrons…Saying “black lives matter” should be natural for staff members, and for Village Theatre’s public voice on social media and beyond…We commit to expanding Village’s existing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, enhancing its purpose from basic EDI to an examination of systemic and institutional inequities, and implementing a recurring anti-racism training program for all staff and board members. Youth education staff, teaching artists, directors, and designers will be trained additionally on bringing social justice into the classroom.”
So perhaps Hunt and Dixon, high on their own supply of public self-righteous moral indignation, did indeed storm into Fins and demand that the bistro “decolonize” their bar, kitchen, menu and wait staff? Perhaps they demanded that when the lockdown passed that servers at Fins must greet customers with a sufficiently progressive battle cry of: ‘Welcome to Fins, where black lives matter and white privilege gets checked at the door! Please declare your pronouns and acknowledge your guilt before ordering.’
Regardless of what it has become by the high summer of 2022, throughout the years prior to its frenzied and ultimately fatal rebranding in 2020 as a rabidly anti-white progressive operation, the Village Theatre was truly a lovely place to enjoy the fine art of great stagecraft.
Along with No Way to Treat a Lady, I spent years (and a fair amount of cash) taking in productions at the Village Theatre that ranged from Cabaret, Snapshots, Billy Elliot and Pump Boys & Dinettes to Singing In The Rain, The 39 Steps, Dreamgirls, Newsies, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, I Do! I Do! and She Loves Me, among others.
With its 2018 production of The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes the theatre pulled out all the stops, unleashing a 100-minute uninterrupted delivery of an unassuming, average American Joe who wakes up one day to discover his life had become a musical. Brandon Ivie directed this wicked send-up and playful takedown of all the genres of the American musical canon, even having a go at ‘breaching the fourth wall.’ The complex and divergent set designs proved to be the most impressively staged I had encountered at the Village Theatre and competed with the quality cast for audiences attention.
Along with The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, most of the other productions at the Village Theatre held their weight with best-in-class performances when contrasted with the big-ticket productions that I have seen in marquee playhouses (Shubert, Pantages, Ahmanson, Mark Taper and others) across my lifetime in Los Angeles; including the The King and I with Yul Brynner, Evita with Mandy Patinkin, Death of a Salesman with Brian Dennehy, Rent with Neil Patrick Harris, a revival of HAIR at the Hollywood Bowl with Kristen Bell and Beverly D’Angelo, the LA opening of Hamilton and Les Misérables, Proposals, The Lion King and Phantom of The Opera among many others.
A smaller theatre’s ability to routinely box well above its weight in sheer talent and ingenuity was truly inspiring and that’s why the sudden creative suicide of the Village Theatre is so utterly disturbing.
While we live in an age of epic social unraveling, the corruption and artistic collapse that Hunt and Dixon unleashed at the Village Theatre still possessed enough rank progressive pollution to catch me—and apparently quite a few other now former patrons—completely by surprise. The sheer velocity of their confessional-turned-indictment was more than jolting, particularly when Hunt and Dixon boasted in their statement that a progressive Left loyalty oath will now be administered to all staff and cast, show-by-show, with political reliability as ultimately the lone metric of cast and crew evaluations.
And the theatre’s compliance agents will be watching, listening and monitoring far more than just what is said—or not said—at the theatre or social media platforms but indeed across all aspects of crew and casts lives.
“We commit to rigorous, consistent personal and institutional interrogation to root out deep cultural norms and behaviors that are harmful to BIPOC,” Hunt and Dixon wrote, adding: “We will include the organization’s core values and equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism statements in first rehearsal/meet and greet presentations with HR and company management, and we will make it clear that Village will not tolerate or excuse behavior that violates those values. To establish trust and keep communication lines open, Village will implement a system of regular, individual check-ins with all performers from first rehearsal through closing night. We recognize that we have not sufficiently supported company members after shows open and the creative team steps away.”
Meet the Pyongyang Players: a troupe dedicated to applauding and cheering sufficiently—or suitably begging for forgiveness—as they are reminded that the Village Theatre is now, like its North Korean spiritual namesake, a Capital of the Revolution.
And just so there is no misunderstanding, Hunt and Dixon, again employing virtually the exact language they so carefully lifted from the likes of ‘Kendi’ (again, real name Henry Rogers) and DiAngelo, reminded everyone from patrons to sponsors and from crew to casts that the revolution, the struggle, the cause, must never end:
“The work of becoming an anti-racist organization is never finished. We will get it wrong along the way, then acknowledge our mistakes and improve…We recognize that the “good worker” mentality is a real barrier to reporting and that the theatre’s position of power as a current and future employer can discourage artists from coming forward.”
Ah yes, the ‘Good Worker Mentality’ is a “real barrier” for artists of color. Consider that claim by Hunt and Dixon for a moment—which is actually brazenly racist on the face of it—and then ponder the implications for the cast and crew at the Village Theatre. Are black actors now exempt from showing up to rehearsal on time since timeliness has been identified as a hallmark of whiteness?
What about the memorization of dialogue before opening night? Are black actors now free to shout “Line?!” in front of a packed house at the Village Theatre because mastering the script would also reflect an unacceptable perpetuation of a colonized stage? How about correct enunciation of the dialogue?
And since punctuality has also been determined by the likes of Hunt and Dixon to be a dangerous sign of whiteness, should patrons expect to see a play that’s advertised to begin at 8 p.m. actually stumble onto the stage whenever the BIPOC cast feels it is suitably safe enough for them to begin without feeling threatened by a hard start time that would reflect white supremacy?
Also, what about the flashing lobby lights that traditionally signal an end to intermission? Might that antiquated practice also not be a confusing and potentially frightening experience for the ‘non-traditional’ patron populations that Hunt and Dixon want to see filling the theatre’s seats?
What’s going to happen when the first brawl breaks out in the lobby and the concession stand is bum-rushed and looted or the needle-users so ubiquitous around Seattle find the Village Theatre’s restrooms beckoning like a junkie Nirvana?
Well, that last question may be somewhat moot, if the reliable attendance of audiences of paying and supportive patrons cannot be restored to the Village Theatre amid the creative wreckage wrought by Hunt and Dixon’s Kamikaze flight of political fancy. In an interview with the Seattle Times conducted as the 2022 ‘return’ got underway, Hunt acknowledged that the theatre was facing some steep challenges in getting the audiences that once fueled its storied success back into the playhouse.
While some of those challenges were certainly inescapable, Hunt has apparently harbored no regrets that the radical departure that his and Dixon’s declaration of converting the Village Theatre into a racially-obsessed and politically-driven platform, one that holistically embodies a theology of anti-white pedagogy, has most surely dealt it a creative deathblow—a mortal wound visible in its audiences.
For most of the slightly abbreviated 2022 season and the $13 million it required to produce and stage, the theatre understandably relied primarily on donations as well as grants from government agencies and philanthropic organizations. Corporate sponsors also returned, with Shelter Holdings and Microsoft helping out the underwriting. Village Theatre has long been able to land major corporate sponsors, including Washington’s golden ticket employers like Boeing and the Big Tech outfits, and the theatre’s conversion into a progressive sweat lodge is unlikely to change that element of its revenue stream as companies will seek to launder their true identities through the new washing machine now available on Issaquah’s Front Street. Shelter Holdings is the developer that in 2016 infamously sought to build 1,800 homes in the Issaquah Highlands on land that had originally been zoned for three residences in a byzantine land-swap deal of the sort that has already exploded the town’s density and destroyed much of its character over the past decade.
Shelter Holdings can at least partially obscure if not really ameliorate such sins born of the pure corporate greed that courses through its veins by writing checks to support the Village Theatre’s ‘Name Your Own Price’ program that the playhouse debuted in 2022 primarily as a means to reach into what Hunt and Dixon had determine to be marginalized theatre-going communities.
Yet even such transparently cynical corporate largess can only produce so much bang for the buck.
Despite the easing and then outright elimination of ostensibly pandemic-related restrictions across Washington and the rest of the nation, the Village Theatre maintained a strict masking requirement throughout its 2022 season. Perplexed perhaps by why patrons would be hesitant to pay to sit for three hours wearing a mask in a theatre when they could board a plane at SeaTac without one, the Village Theatre sought to convince subscribers and even passerby on Front Street with a marketing campaign demonstrating the Joys of Masking, replete with jubilant masked kids heralding the slogan: ‘Mask-up and enjoy the show!’
It makes sense if you think about it, the theatre is just being what’s known as ‘on brand,’ as masking has become the modern iteration of the political armband, with the progressives goosestepping around in them when they aren’t parading their children about town with masks covering their faces like mini-Burqas in very public displays of garish fealty to the progressive Taliban even when it has been indisputably demonstrated they don’t prevent transmission of the virus whatsoever.
While the Village Theatre in Issaquah has continued to promote such social submission and the ecstasy of deliverance that it delivers for those who comply, just about 70 miles away up in the Cascades is the old mining outpost of Roslyn, a mountain redoubt still home to about a thousand people of the racial and economic variety that apparently make Hunt and Dixon’s skin crawl. During the mask mandates, the windows of The Brick—which first opened in the 1880s and is reputedly Washington’s oldest saloon still pouring (solid) drinks—were papered with a different message for the Evergeen State: ‘Unmask Our Children: Let Kids Be Kids!’
Undoubtedly that’s just the sort of unvarnished rebel yell that can’t and won’t go unanswered by the Village Theatre in its new role. Its cadres stand ready.
Over drinks with my lady one afternoon in the old saloon, I pondered the last show I had seen at the Village Theatre more than two years earlier. It was mid-February 2020 and a production of She Loves Me, originally adapted in 1963 from Miklós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie but known by most Americans from the film You’ve Got Mail, was making its charming run across the stage with all the usual clever set work and high caliber performances that had become the signature of the Village Theatre.
The cast was decidedly white and the audience decisively so, as usual. In the playbill, only one actor declared her pronouns. And yet from the stage to the box seats, not one of us realized that the producers would in a very short time come to burn with hatred at the very thought of such a lovely night, psychotically rebranding it as an artistic hate crime.
Standing on a snow-dusted Front Street for a smoke during intermission, I did feel there was a gathering darkness on the edge of town, a growing sense of unease as the first cases of the virus to make landfall in the U.S. had been identified just weeks earlier in Washington.
Yet I had no way of knowing—nor did Hunt or Dixon—of just what a massive shitshow of hasty mistakes turned to crafty malfeasance to insidious malignancy would soon follow. Village Theatre abruptly shut down not long after the cast of She Loves Me took their bows from the stage that night and the ensuing controlled demolition of America began exploding across new avenues shortly thereafter.
But where I, like most Americans, saw an epic calamity unfolding as the lockdowns turned to flaming chaos in the streets and beyond, Hunt and Dixon saw an opportunity of a lifetime—and they seized it with all the perverse passion of the arsonists setting America ablaze.
So, I am thankful that my last night at the Village Theatre was a lovely one indeed, a fine nightcap of sorts defined by the type of performance which is unlikely to be seen on its stage again and the kind of audience that is unlikely to fill its seats organically once more. While I am saddened that I can’t in good conscience and with any shred of self-respect purchase another ticket nor spend another evening there, I am glad for the times we shared.
It was a helluva run, Village Theatre, but yes, in Issaquah at least, the theatre’s really dead.