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A conversation with up-and-coming talent Brandon Ivie
Arts & Entertainment
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A conversation with up-and-coming talent Brandon Ivie

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Brandon Ivie is "busy," as he calls it, being someone to watch on the arts scene in our fair city. He started his own theater company, Contemporary Classics, as a senior in high school, focusing on new musicals. "I just wanted to do a cabaret one day, so I decided I needed a name to produce, because no one was going to come because I was doing it, so I filed for a business license and sold tickets and started filing taxes for the business. There was never a doubt that I was going to do more." Once graduated from UW, he landed a job as assistant to the top musical producer in the city, David Armstrong, producing artistic director at the 5th Avenue Theatre. He calls that "the best first job out of college ever."

He's still only 24, but his list of accomplishment grows by the month. He doesn't like to talk about his age. "It's sometimes impressive and sometimes a deterrent. Young usually means less experienced and it's easier to trust someone who's been around a while; it's an instinct. Any time I'm asked to produce or direct, I need the complete trust of whomever I'm working with, the second we collaborate. If there's no trust, I won't feel like I'm doing as good a job as I can."

Ivie has already worked on four Broadway shows, either at the 5th Avenue or actually in New York. In 2008, he experienced the tumultuous and ultimately failed production of Lone Star Love at the 5th and watched Armstrong deal with that kind of difficult situation and work through it. But he's also worked on Shrek, Memphis and Catch Me If You Can at the 5th, all headed to or on Broadway, and helped launch the Broadway production of ex-Village Theatre associate Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal, which won Brian a Tony Award last year.

He's fully aware of his good fortune, but he works pretty hard at what he does. "It's an amazing experience. Other people might call it passion or [being] driven, but I like calling it [keeping] busy with things I like to do." Born and raised in the Redmond/Bellevue area, Ivie is a fraternal twin. While he and his brother get along compatibly, there are some key differences: his brother went into sports (they were both sports-crazy as kids) and he went into theater, he went to UW and his brother to Wazoo, and he is Gay and his brother is not.

He's fortunate enough to have had virtually no family contentions with "coming out." He's comfortable being a serial monogamist, and is dating, but not ready to settle down. By the time he wants to think about settling down and maybe having a family, it might get to a point where it's just as easy and normal (legally) for him as any straight guy. "I feel very blessed I haven't had to worry about it. I've never felt scared or had to hide it. & I don't walk around with a rainbow flag around my neck & [but coming out] was a very positive experience."

A NATURAL THEATRICAL LEADER

Taking the lead is natural to Ivie. "It's in my bones, taking the lead. I guess I'll just jump in. The arts educators were really the people who instilled a sense of pride and confidence. My band teacher is one of my biggest influences."

Ivie majored in drama with an emphasis in directing and producing. He was the executive director of the Undergraduate Theater Society, which produces 95% of the theater at the university, and ran a 75-seat black box theater for two and one-half years. "I was the head of the staff and we had between six and 12 staff members. That's where I really got my producing experience about how to run a company. We didn't get any [monetary] support from the school; it was all ticket sales and fundraisers."

Contemporary Classics started getting more notice in 2006, but started what is now a hugely popular concert performance series, New Voices, before that. "The first show people noticed was A New Brain in 2006. & It went really well and we had a fantastic cast. I look back fondly on that. & New Voices started when, one summer, me and a bunch of college friends were home for the summer and not working on a show. There were seven of us, and we decided to do a concert and invited our friends and family and a lot of songs were new musical theater songs. It went so well, we did it again in the winter, when everyone was home, and focused in more on new material. [After that] I started suggesting songs that I thought someone would be really great at singing. By New Voices 3, I was assigning material and inviting performers. It really blew up with [New Voices] 5. It shifted out of the college-age performers to a wider more diverse cast, and it's exploded from there. This upcoming concert (New Voices 8) is in the largest venue to date [the 400-seat ACT Theatre]."

What's in store for New Voices 8, Monday, December 28 at 8 p.m. at ACT? "It's going to be the same mix of crazy, charming, funny, deranged show tunes," Ivie says. "We have backup singers again, and are adding a couple more instruments. Some of the local authors of the songs will be accompanying their own songs like Thomas and Paul Dutton and Orlando Morales. Styles will be R&B to rock and roll to musical theater to pop&."

What does 2010 have planned? Ivie is coy about a world premiere musical, since details have yet to be worked out, but New Voices 9 will be in August. You've been encouraged to watch for this show. It's reliably one of the most fun events in town, and each performance is for one night only.

BACK HOME IN SEATTLE

Now that he's been to Broadway, how does Ivie compare it to working in Seattle? "It was amazing to be working with what seems like unending resources compared what I'm used to doing fringe theater. Surprisingly enough, it's exactly the same. & It's all bigger and grander, but it's the same thing."

Ivie has his finger on the pulse on contemporary new musicals. He says his geek side shows as he networks through the internet, writers' websites, and YouTube. "I research recipients of a writing grant or award. If I don't know the writers, I'll Google them or find a website and find out as much as I can about them and the kind of stuff they write."

Ivie has dreams. "I want to be a musical theater artistic director in Seattle, and be working on developing new musicals. That's the big goal. The ideal theater in my mind doesn't exist in Seattle - that [would be a theater] solely dedicated to the development of new musicals. The Village and 5th both have development arms that create new work, but I would like to see a theater that just develops new work. I understand the economics. It's a hard thing to get people to see new stuff. Music Man and Oklahoma are fantastic examples of big Broadway musicals, but there's also the place for the scrappy experimental musical and it takes some educating to the general public that this kind of thing actually exists. [If] someone can make an independent film channel on TV, there's an audience for the art form of independent musical theater."

With all this Broadway experience, does he think he'll end up in New York? "Seattle will always be my home. If life takes me somewhere [else], I think I'll always end up in Seattle. It has a fantastic theater community, my family is here, the people are wonderful and I love the city and the geography." And if we keep him here, we're in for some great new works. For more information, go to Contemporary Classics on Facebook at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=96893384600.

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