Action Figure

While the big theaters sit it out, Matthew Kwatinetz made a 9/11 event happen.


various times and venues in Seattle 617-3416 $5-$10, day and all-festival passes available

Wed., Sept. 11-Sun., Sept. 15

WHEN YOU ASK Matthew Kwatinetz why he’s so drawn to theater, he shoots back an answer even before the question is completely out.

“Collaboration,” he says.

Collaboration is something we might’ve expected from Seattle’s major theaters post-9/11, considering most of them have gone slack-jawed on the subject of the tragedy and all of them are treading water financially in its economic aftermath. We’ve spent the past year besieged with self-important proclamations that the arts really mean something since those towers fell. But it’s only Kwatinetz, with his Waging Peace festival—five days of reflective theater, spoken word, dance, film, and discussion—who has stepped forward in a major way and challenged local artists to put their methods where their mouthy politics are.

Kwatinetz, 26, has been in Seattle for four years, volunteering at smaller venues and arts happenings—the Fringe Festival, poetry slams, the women’s playwriting Mae West Fest—and getting his footing in the local theater scene. His own company, reBirth, has been staging rag-tag performance revues and diplomatic open mikes (“Everyone is an artist” is the mantra) for the past two years at different spaces on Capitol Hill, beginning with the now defunct Zodiac Caf頯n Broadway. But Kwatinetz wants to further tap into theater’s transforming capabilities.

“I’m especially interested in black box theater, where, inside, you just remake the world into something else, and people sit there and it’s their reality,” he muses. “It’s not a simulation of their reality, it is. You know: They sit there, they breathe. You’re there, you breathe. You really have the opportunity to redefine reality—at least for an hour. And I just believe that that can change people.”

Oh, let’s go ahead and say it: Kwatinetz is earnest. He uses the words “forum” and “dialogue” a lot (as in “This will be a forum that I hope leads people to dialogue”). And he says the festival is “a way for [people] to process things that maybe they weren’t able to process—or they weren’t willing to process—in a community that is large enough and accepting enough that it can be supportive of that kind of processing.” And, yeah, his company’s name is reBirth, which, to the cynical among us, might suggest an evening spent with folks who have several pairs of tie-dyed pants and an affinity for Enya.

But Waging Peace is no half-assed project, and reducing Kwatinetz to guileless hippie stereotypes does him some disservice. Kwatinetz took an idea he had last November and, by cold-calling sponsors and potential participating artists for the past year, brought it to fruition. Subtitled “Artistic Intention in a State of War,” Waging Peace, whatever its eventual success, is a laudable attempt to consider what has happened in the world—what is happening in the world—and how art in its many forms can bring people together in an arena of powerful contemplation.

The festival concerns more than just the horror of 9/11—its changing daily themes include “Transforming a Culture of Sexual Violence” and “Israel, Palestine, and the Missing Peace.” And Kwatinetz and his fellow organizers (“I have the most amazing staff of volunteers you’ve ever seen in your life”) have gathered stellar local acts: in with the panel discussions and screenings—like the award-winning South African documentary Long Night’s Journey Into Day—are Dappin’ Butoh, theater simple (with a 9/11 piece performed simultaneously in cities across the nation), and ecstatic uplift from multiethnic, boundary-crossing musicians Children of the Revolution. “It’s not like they have to talk politics,” says Kwatinetz, speaking of the band but seeming to sum up his own noble ambitions. “When you can see all the cultures come together, it’s just a moving thing in and of itself.”

Kwatinetz and crew are tireless, and they’ve found a real sense of, yes, collaboration amongst the artists; Kwatinetz’s reBirth and theater simple are two of several groups forming a long-term cooperative arts space in the festival’s headquarters at Morningside Studios on Capitol Hill. If all goes according to plan, the message of unity will last far beyond this week.