Ki Gottberg

By Marcy Stamper

After four years at the Merc Playhouse, Artistic Director Ki Gottberg is leaving at the end of February, with pride and regrets  — and some disappointments.

“I’ve absolutely adored every project that I’ve worked on at the Merc,” said Gottberg. But she hadn’t anticipated it would be so difficult to find people interested in being involved in shows, either as actors or in backstage roles.

Gottberg worked concurrently at her job as a professor of theater and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Seattle University and commuted to the Methow, so the schedule proved draining.

While Gottberg has had a vacation home here for years, her obligations in Seattle meant her experience at the Merc was different than it would have been for someone in the valley full time, she said. “I’m from a community where there’s a line out the door” when they cast shows, she said.

“It’s both thrilling for me to do the work, but also completely exhausting,” said Gottberg. “Not being in the community full time makes it really, really hard.”

Rehearsal schedules for the shows can be intense, generally requiring actors to be available five to six days a week for six weeks, said Gottberg. Many people aren’t able to make that kind of commitment on a regular basis, she said.

“There’s the idea of the theater and the reality of the Methow,” she said. “People are really busy  — they have several jobs  — and they have to travel long distances.”

“People said, ‘Being in that reading was the most incredible experience. It was like two weeks of therapy, the most fabulous thing,’” said Gottberg. But that doesn’t mean they could do it again and again, she said.

Gottberg also was dismayed that workshops she offered in acting and directing had been poorly attended.

Gottberg said she didn’t know if her predecessors had faced the same challenges in finding enough people to participate. “The thing about theater is that you’re not all alone in your studio. You all have to be there  — that’s what makes it so much fun, and also makes it take its toll,” she said.

Audiences have been strong, particularly for children’s theater. “A small theater in Seattle would be thrilled to get the audiences we get at the Merc,” said Gottberg.

Gottberg said highlights of her time at the Merc include “The Real Inspector Hound,” which ended its run this past weekend; “Venus in Fur,” a provocative drama produced last summer; and “The Miss Firecracker Contest.” She is also proud of producing Shakespeare with children.

Adapting and staging “The Last Salmon,” a book by a local author that involved local actors and musicians, was also a high point. The play even went on tour to Seattle.

Gottberg also is pleased with the growth at the Merc, where a technical director and house manager were added during her tenure.

Looking ahead

The Merc’s board has a retreat this September to explore ideas for the Merc, with input from Gottberg, said executive director Missi Smith. Possibilities include producing fewer plays locally and instead bringing in more shows from outside the valley, but they’re looking at a range of ideas, said Smith.

The board has been researching various approaches and talking to other community theaters about their staff and how they function, said Smith.

Children’s programs, which have been among the most successful part of the Merc’s productions, will definitely remain, said Smith.

“I’m just as curious as anybody else how it’s going to play out,” said Gottberg.

Gottberg will help craft the schedule for next year and will appear as the title character in a production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which she’s bringing from Seattle University this December.