Profile: Wier Harman

Director, Town Hall.

Some culturati got nervous when David Brewster stepped down as director of Town Hall, the invaluable, intellectually omnivorous arts and civic center. The hottest of enterprises can revert to ashes once the charismatic founder vamooses, and in earlier life, Brewster (the founder of this paper) sometimes was a reluctant baton relinquisher. But he's sure pulled it off this time—that brisk wind you feel is actually Seattle exhaling with relief. Brewster's successor, Wier Harman, is a spectacularly promising honcho. At 38, Harman has a list of accomplishments as imposing as his full legal name (Julian Wier Harman III) and uncannily appropriate to Town Hall's multifaceted mission. A director/performer/marketing director/dogsbody at Seattle's Annex Theatre in the '90s (where he helped give Paul Giamatti notes that evidently didn't hurt his career), he became a leading light at Yale Drama School, program director of the International Festival of Art and Ideas, and rescuer of Atlanta's moribund Actor's Express Theater after its founder left in 2000. Being that rara avis, an artist/administrator, Harman won Best Director and Best New Talent awards from the local press and turned the place around with "personable style and theatrical panache," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Wendell Brock. At Town Hall, he has the same size budget, $700,000, and a far sunnier fiscal forecast. In New York, he directed Marisa Tomei in a play; executive directed the octuple-Obie-winning Foundry Theatre, which also staged Town Hall–like events; and so impressed his colleague Barbara Sauermann, the producer of the prestigiously innovative Howl! Festival of East Village Arts, that she married him last month. "He's an arts guy, not just a generalist the way I am," says Brewster. "He's very interested in jazz; it'd be nice to have more of that. And he definitely wants to make the place feel younger, more attractive to younger audiences, and second, make the events have greater tension." When they discussed the upcoming Town Hall appearance of Gen. Janis Karpinski, who took the fall for Abu Ghraib, Brewster was impressed that Harman wanted to add pro-war veterans to the event. "It's a closed loop if a speaker addresses a homogenous audience," e-mails Harman, on the eve of his wedding. "My gut is, many people who turn up will be looking for her to place responsibility further up the chain of command. I'd like for the room to feature people who actually know what a military chain of command is." Described as "charming and funny and lovely" by former colleague Allison Narver (now head of Empty Space), Harman would appear to be ideal: a nice guy who can pay bills on blue-sky dreams, handle Seattle's peevishly consensual style, and never yield to our smug complacency. "I don't want an audience that's here for a soothing massage to their preconceptions any more than I want a room full of hecklers," writes Harman. "People who are generously and sincerely open to experiences and ideas are the people Town Hall is for." Brewster's patented mix of Bach and talk won't go away, but the odds of seeing, say, the Degenerate Art Ensemble probably just went up. tappelo@seattleweekly.com Town Hall, 206-652-4255, www.townhallseattle.org.

 
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