The burden of 'Proof'

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

"Proof" is still in its first run on Broadway, which makes the play's opening at Perseverance Theatre Friday night something of a near miracle.

"Proof" opened off-Broadway in May 2000. It was critically acclaimed and sold out through it's three-month run. It opened on Broadway in November of last year and starred Mary Louise Parker.

Perseverance's producing director Jeffery Herrmann had the rights to the play 99 percent secured last spring, he said. But this summer when "Proof" won American theater's most prestigious awards, the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, the New York producers nearly killed the Perseverance production because of a conflict with rights to stage the play.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking," Herrmann said. "We were all pretty tense for a couple weeks."

Herrmann first saw the show in January in New York. "I thought it was awesome and that it would go over really well here." he said.

Herrmann staged a reading of the play and the play got a thumbs-up from Perseverance staffers.

"I submitted my request for the rights before the Pulitzer and Tony were awarded," Herrmann said. "At that point the producers had authorized the rights for a few small theaters around the country. They were encouraging that Perseverance could do it."

Everything changed when the honors were awarded this summer. Theaters across the country began requesting rights to the play. A movie was put in development. A national tour was scheduled to start this month in Seattle at the Seattle Repertory Theater.

Traditionally, when one theater has the rights to a play, no other productions are allowed within a certain geographic radius.

"I was afraid they'd embargo our production," Herrmann said. "People in theater can get really territorial about this."

Perseverance already had months of work into the show. Master carpenter Art Rotch had designed a set, the cast was signed and rehearsals were getting underway. Herrmann had received reassurances throughout the summer that final approval would come through. But by August he was starting to panic.

Herrmann drew on his contacts in the business to get hold of the head producer of "Proof" in New York. He explained that a Juneau production would not impact the Seattle audience.

"They were understanding," he said. "They met it's a consortium of 14 people. They granted us permission on the provision that the Seattle Repertory Theatre OK'd it. I was waiting to hear back and we'd already been in rehearsal in a week."

Perseverance artistic director Peter DuBois called Sharon Ott his counterpart at Seattle Repertory to ask permission, and they granted it.

"It really came down to the good graces of one woman in Seattle," said Sara Waisanen, one of the four actors in the play.

Waisanan, director Terry Cramer and the cast members were committed to the production. Cramer remained optimistic throughout the process, but said they could've been asked to switch gears completely as late as mid-August.

"We had another play in our back pocket for a worst-case situation," Herrmann said. "You can't just go ahead and do it. We'd be blackballed forever."

"Proof" runs four times a week through Oct. 7 at Perseverance Theatre.


Riley Woodford can be reached at

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