Category Archives: Features

TSB interview: Teatro Zinzanni founder Norm Langill talks about its 15 year history and new, Frankenstein-inspired show ‘When Sparks Fly’


For more than fifteen years, Teatro Zinzanni has been a fixture in Seattle. There’s simply nothing like it. It’s a cabaret and interactive show, with dinner served. The show changes three times a year, with the latest called When Sparks Fly, an interpretation of Frankenstein that involves grants from the Gates Foundation, illusions, a reenactment of Godzilla, acrobatics, and more.

Sparks Will Fly features a cast that includes Dreya Weber, a singer/actress/choreographer/aerialist who has choreographed nearly everyone in pop music, including two of Pink’s Grammy performances. Another star, Elena Gatilova, is a world champion rhythmic gymnast. There is also Russian magician Voronin, a Teatro Zinzanni fixture.

Teatro Zinzanni is never on anyone’s “cheap things to do in Seattle” listicle, but it’s definitely an evening worth saving for, when possible (tickets run about $100 each, but there are discounts available).

I met up with its Founder and Artistic Director Norman Langill for an interview a few weeks ago to talk about all things Teatro Zinzanni.

Let me with the show that’s going on right now, When Sparks Fly, an interpretation of the Frankenstein story. Can you talk a little bit about how this show came to be?

The shows are built on the cast. We have a conceptual idea for a show and then cast around that. We have notions of what we’re going to do, then the stories are written in collaboration with all the artists, what they want to do and what they’re great at. We develop stories and characters out of that, with me steering the ship.

Frankenstein was interesting because we took it more from the idea of ten years after he made the bride. Then the questions are why did he make the monster and why did he make the bride? People talk about him wanting to be God, but he didn’t want to be God, he’s a scientist. Why did he start this project? Did he have a bigger goal in mind? I proposed that he was trying to make a family. He wanted a son and he wanted a daughter to marry the son. In the book, he married his sister, so that didn’t seem so far off. Every experiment he did usually had gone wrong, usually with the assistant giving him the wrong brain or somebody telling him what to do. This time, the Igor character, which is Dreya (Weber), she was in “Gangsters in Love,” she tells him that he still looks unhappy with his results and maybe he needs a mother for his children and a wife, so he makes himself a wife. Again, his assistants make an error and break that heart that was supposed to be inside. At the end of the show, the family comes together and encourages him to use some of his love voodoo instead of the mechanics.

That’s a very loose interpretation, but there are so many versions of Frankenstein. I was sort of stunned. I had seen all of the movies. There have been dozens of them, including Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein. There is some Russian version called Frankenstein’s Army, which is when the Russian army was crushing the Germans, the Germans took their dead soldiers and reanimated them.

It’s a really common notion these days because it’s close to cloning. You can make a human being, but the question is “what kind of human being will they be?” The big question is always “Will the monster love you?” You can’t make love in a laboratory. Those are the themes we play with. Each show has a theme and we play with those ideas.

What about Teatro Zinzanni as a whole, which now has been in Seattle for more than fifteen years?

It started because, twenty-two years ago, we produced a show for the Cultural Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 called Gumbo YaYa. It had a Japanese/French/Cajun/English cast. It was about rice farming. When I was doing advance work in Barcelona, I saw this tent, an actual tent. I went inside and was transported because I didn’t expect it to look inside like what it looks like on the outside. It’s best when you do theater, or any kind of event, that the environment you put the audience into is magical because then they’re ready for anything. If you go to a standard theater with a standard seating, you’re sitting next to a stranger that you’re not going to meet, then all you can do is laugh and clap, everything else is forbidden. This environment, which was really a nightclub when it started, starts with the audience already being off their feet and floating. The question is, “How do you take them to another world?”

It took me about five years to locate a tent that was available. This one was in an Antwerp amusement park. I met the owner, who had been making these for five generations, and convinced him to let me have it. It came over in 1998. I put together this show based on my work at Bumbershoot and seeing all these street performers and comedians all over the world.

It started as a ten week project, after the summer. But it took it off and that was over 7000 shows ago and about eighty different versions of the cast. Now we have a company. Everybody in Frankenstein has been in the show before. The guy, Voronin, had has done eight years of performances with us off and on. It’s down to a fine science now. The differences become the stories.

It’s a challenge for me and a challenge for the performers to keep creating, but that’s what you’re looking for. That’s the fun part.

How did you assemble the cast and work on developing each routine and sketch?

I guess it started because Voronin wanted to do a show with the Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, and what we were calling Waiters for Godot. Those were three ideas. We couldn’t do all three, so we picked Frankenstein and started with that.

The first thing you have to is crank up to the ceiling, and having lightning, and creating something. I thought I couldn’t start the show that way because what are you going to do after that? I thought we should put that at the end and make something else at the beginning?

Then I watched a movie by Thomas Edison. He did a movie about Frankenstein. Frankenstein was made in a big pot, in his sort of kitchen. Let’s make him out of an oven.

There’s also a movie called Heart of a Dog, a Russian movie, a sort of Frankenstein movie. He takes a dog, castrates the dog, and puts human genitals on and a pituitary gland in the brain. The dog morphs into a dog-like man, or a man with doggy instincts. That and another Russian movie called Formula of Love, which is about Count Cagliostro. Interestingly enough, there’s a character that is a 17th century, incredibly charismatic magician and hypnotist, a favorite of the French Court and the Russian Court. He was a complete charlatan. Orson Welles made a movie about him called Black Magic.

Americans didn’t really pick up on it, but Russians loved Formula of Love, which has this theme as Frankenstein. He could manipulate anybody and anything, but he made a bet with himself that this beautiful woman could fall in love with him in fourteen days. He got this woman because he was a doctor and told this baron who was sick that he had to leave but would take a member of his family and work with her and make him better. Of course, he picked the beautiful daughter. He goes to his next job, which is a young baron falling in love with a statue. Of course, the young baron falls in love with his protégé. He realizes that she won’t fall in love with him and it doesn’t work. He learns something: that love means that you’re willing to die for somebody. Learning that was enough for him. Man can manipulate anything, but he cannot manipulate love.

Love became an interesting topic. I met a guy the other night who is a professor at the University of Montana and he teaches about Frankenstein. He said that he thought Frankenstein created the monster to kill his family. I took the exact opposite tack that Frankenstein created the monster to create a family because he wanted one of his own. In the book, he does it because his mother dies and he never wants anyone to die again. That was Mary Shelley’s take on it. But with Count Cagliostro, all these directors, Andy Warhol, and Thomas Edison, everybody making their own interpretation, this is a wide-open area and I don’t have to stick to a book. I’m going to make my own interpretation of man’s ability to create life. But can he make the life love him? Cagliostro couldn’t do it. Dr. Frankenstein was incapable of love. It became a really interesting story.

And each time Voronin, the magician, comes back, I build a new magic trick for him. It’s hard doing illusions in 360 degrees. It’s easy when it’s just on stage, but hard when the audience is surrounding you. You have to be able to look ten ways to the jack to figure out how to do that.

There are things that the history of Zinzanni puts in, things that we’ve done before, and things that we’ve been following, and there’s new stuff.

We talk about shows coming up and we communicate and keep talking the ideas through. That’s the fun part.

How have the shows evolved over the past fifteen years?

Just more detail. We’re learning more about how to play with the audience, and how to ask for responses and getting them. If you want a crowd to dance, don’t ask them, tell them. Have them get up, and look at that special someone and tell them to ask that person to dance. With men, they lose the dancing bug at about age twenty. Don’t rely on men to ask. Force them into the decision. People love it. It’s hugging is what it is. You get to hug for three minutes.

We learned how to toast. People love toasts. They feel proud and strong. I think we’re mainly about comedy and being funny. The difference between a comedian and a serious performer is that a comedian is like a doctor with a stethoscope on the heartbeat of the audience. You’re working the whole time, working for laughs and for a good time.

Dreya is always cast as a femme fatale, so how about making her ugly and she’s transformed by love? That was a challenge for her to not be a femme fatale all the time.

Beauty and humor are really close. It’s great when you see a beautiful performer be funny. Let’s face it, are we really thrilled when we see a beautiful person just being beautiful? Do we feel empathy for them? Maybe when you’re a teenager, but after that, it’s like, “Oh please, can you lighten up so I can see your human side?”

{When Sparks Fly plays through September 21. Tickets and more info can be found here.}


Making Cash in Seattle’s “Junk” Trade, Pt. 4: Records and Selling

Here we are at the last article in our four-part series on making cash in Seattle’s “junk” trade — those items you spot at flea markets, and garage and estate sales, that most people might pass by. Here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, if you’ve missed any.

I’m about to suggest a category of collecting that no one else is even looking at. Look, I’m not Nostradamus. But I think the conditions are right for this category to not only take off, but to be a dominant category in the future. Then, let’s finish up with a few tips on how to sell the items you’ve scored.

Vinyl Records

How about an Andy Warhol? Make sure it has a real zipper.
How about an Andy Warhol? Make sure it has a real zipper.

Buy any period original vinyl records by the Beatles, Stones, Who, Beach Boys, and Elvis. Check the dates of publication. 1960s are best. Be sure to buy anything produced with the Apple Label, the house label of the Beatles’ Apple Records in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Look for regional punk bands from the late 1970s, such as X or the Germs in L.A.

Jazz records by known artists, particularly live albums, are collectible. Many live jazz recordings never made it cassettes or CDs, including those by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Dave Brubeck.

In the 1970s, record companies put out picture discs, vinyl with embedded art, to attract buyers. If you find one, buy it. They are highly collectible.

Here’s a hot tip. Though collectible publications don’t even have “Album Cover Art” as a category, I suspect they will in the near future. In the 1960s and 1970s, rock groups and jazz musicians worked with the finest contemporary artists and photographers to design wild, far-out album covers. These will become collectible over time. When you go through record collections at estate sales, take your time to go through every album. Read the credits. Look for names like Gary Burden, Henry Diltz, Peter Corriston and Robert Whitaker.

Look for the craziest band names: If it’s something like the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Barbarians, or the Magic Mushrooms, you should buy it. Look for glamorous women and sharp-dressed men. Look for singers wearing crazy clothes.

Start with your own family. Did you have brothers or a father that collected records? Scour their collections. Did they save tickets, posters, T-shirts from concerts? These are all highly collectible.

Price Points: $2 to $5. Buy these and hold them.


Having told you what to buy and how much to buy it for, now it’s time to sell. You can sell direct, or you can sell to a dealer. If direct, the real cost is time. Craigslist, AbeBooks, Amazon, and dozens of other selling sites are great venues to sell your goods. But these channels can take time to reach a purchaser. You have to be patient and stay search-engine friendly.

If you sell direct at your home by holding your own garage sale, the profits can add up fast. But garage sales take time to set up, and you must do a thorough job of marketing it with ads on Craigslist,, the newspaper, and in any local community blogs, neighborhood newsletters, and church bulletins. Massive signage at key intersections within two miles of your house on sale days won’t hurt either.

Pricing is always hard, but for a rule of thumb, start at three times what you paid for an item. If you want to sell to a dealer, you will make immediate cash, but dealers will give you less since they have to sell through to their customers. With dealers, you’ll want simply to double your money.

The Final Word
Everyone can use a little extra cash. And most of us want more entertainment. The buying and selling of use items, the junk trade, can be a great way to have both. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get. Over time, you’ll be surprise how that one rare item will jump out at you, even in a house jammed with items.

Just this week, I was driving by a yard sale and I hit the brakes. There, among the used baby toys, was large abstract painting, oil on canvas. I typed the artist’s name into my iPhone and saw that this 75-in. by 60-in. painting might be valuable. It was priced at $20. The woman at the sale just wanted the painting out of her basement, so I offered $5, which she happily took. Further online research surfaced a similar painting by the artist, going for $500 on eBay.

Making Cash in Seattle’s “Junk” Trade, Pt. 3: Clothes, Furniture, Posters

(Photo: MvB)
(Photo: MvB)

We’ve been writing a series on adventures and even profit in Seattle’s junk trade. In Part 1, we gave readers the ways to approach estate, yard and garage sales. In Part 2, we unlocked some of our best secrets on buying art and books that can be flipped for some good cash.

Now, in our third installment, we’ll give some more buying tips on household items, posters and clothes.

Picture Frames

Buy frames. Picture framing is horribly expensive. At every estate sale, there are tons of frames. If a frame is in good shape, buy it, regardless of the art it holds. When you come to sell your art, a good frame adds value. The older a frame is, the better. You can determine age by seeing if nails were used in putting the frame together. Old mid-century frames are hot right now. Search the Internet to familiarize yourself with styles. Keep an eye out for silver frames, which are often overlooked.

Price points: $5 to $25 dollars depending on size. There are usually a glut of frames at estate sales. If you see a bad work of art in a nice frame, buy it, and throw the art away.

(Photo: MvB)
(Photo: MvB)


Probably the best sector to flip items quickly. Good, solid furniture can be a boon to the savvy flipper.

The best furniture for quick resale is made in America from the 1700s to the 1970s. After the rise of pressboard, the value drained away. Naturally, very few really early pieces find their way to the kind of sales we see in Seattle. Best bets are the 1920s to the 1960s: dressers, side tables, end tables, piano benches, dining table sets, kitchen table sets, chairs of all sizes and shapes, old stereo consoles, wood-cased speakers and reel-to-reel consoles. Bed sets are a special issue. Older headboards and beds were much smaller than modern beds. If it’s a smaller bed than a twin, move along.

Mid-century furniture is hot right now, so don’t be surprised to find high prices at sales; and don’t be afraid to buy at higher prices. You’ll be able to flip this furniture fast.

Price Points: $25 to $200. Ouch. Prices will be high, but you can often make more money in this category. Good furniture, with nice wood, a pleasant design and sturdy, is always in demand. Don’t be afraid of minor damage: that can be fixed with off-the-shelf products at any hardware store.


Pre-1980 movie posters from are highly collectible. Horror and science fiction films sell the best. All posters are dated, usually in the lower left hand corner. Peanuts posters produced by Hallmark and made by Springbok in the 1970s are collectible. Advertising posters pre-1970 are easy sells. Don’t waste your time on art posters.

Price points: $2 to $4 dollars unframed, $10 to $15 framed.

(Photo: MvB)
(Photo: MvB)


All sales have tons of clothes.

Right now, clothes from the 1970s and early 1980s are in. There are national chains, like Free People, that are mimicking those styles for huge dollars. The families that are holding estate sales in Seattle right now, usually seniors moving into retirement communities, had children in the 1960s. Their children have left behind some wonderful clothes, and, although you often have to dig deep into closets, you can find valuable second fashions that will pay dividends in your new, reseller career.

Look for bold colors, bell-bottom pants and jeans, platform shoes, leather shoes, sandals, geometric patterns and anything handmade. In the 70s, enterprising young women [and men, presumably — ed.] made pants and skirts out of any material they could find, even flags. These are easy sells.

Price point: $5 to$10 per item. Negotiate down all prices and bundle where possible.

In our next installment, we’ll give you a hot time on a coming collectible, one where you can get in on the ground floor of a category that will take off, in our humble opinion, very soon. We’ll also give you some tips on how to sell your best items.

Making Cash in Seattle’s “Junk” Trade, Pt. 2: Art and Books

(Photo: MvB)
(Photo: MvB)

In the first part of this four-part series on adventures and profit in Seattle’s junk trade, we prepared readers on how to approach estate, yard and garage sales. Now, we are going to give you some prime tips on what to buy, and how much to pay for it. First off, clues on what kind of art and books you can find and later resell for big gains.

This is an area where you can score big. In Seattle, almost any painted image of Mount Rainer will sell. The earlier the date, the better.

Also, look out for small paintings, even cigarette-package-sized. They are usually overlooked and usually have low prices. If you find nearly any small painting, oil on board or canvas, with a pleasing subject manner, buy it, particularly if it’s less than $25.

If a painting is signed, look up the artist’s name on your phone. Type in the first and last name and the word “artist.” Many artists, even great ones, have common names so you want to narrow it down. If professional estate sales people see that the artist’s name is listed, the price goes up. Knock it back down by asking for a lower price. I usually start at half what they are asking for a listed artist. Lots of artists had long careers and sold work in galleries. That doesn’t mean they are Rembrandt. If a large painting is more than $50, come back on Sunday or walk away.

Painting by Jack Brusca. $2. Compare to this one.
Painting by Jack Brusca. $2. Compare to this one.

Look for mid-century art: large abstract prints (bigger than 18″ by 18″) or paintings from the 1950s through the 1970s. Look for women artists. Keep in mind, many women artists changed their names after marrying and are listed under a married name, even though they often sold paintings under their maiden-name signature.

Families often sell old portraits of long forgotten relatives. If they are on canvas, buy low. There is actually a strong market for portraits. I’ve sold such portraits to bars, restaurants and even individuals. Great artists worked in the field of portraiture. Again, keep prices low: below $40.

Before you buy any print, use your magnifying glass. If you look at any image with dots, it means it’s a reproduction. Walk away.

Avoid old etchings of European towns. They look great, but are hard to sell. On the other hand, old etchings of San Francisco, New York, or Seattle are collectible. If you think an image is fantastic, get the lowest price you can: less than $10 is optimal.

Price points: Loose prints, $5 to $7. Framed prints, $7 to $10. If you can find any period painting, pre-1985, that is oil-on-canvas or board for less than $25, buy it. If you are paying more than $50 to $60 dollars for any work of art, it better be signed by a well-listed artist.

Every house has books. There is money in them, and you can sell them yourself online. Be particular about the books you buy: It’s easy to pick up a lot of nice-looking old books only to find out 9,000 people are selling the exact titles on Amazon for a nickel each.

Look for old cookbooks. Best bets are pre-1950 cookbooks, particularly those with old cake and dessert recipes (the guys who started Top Pot found their donut recipe in a 1930s-era cookbook). If you find old cookbooks that feature cocktail recipes, buy them.

Look for authors that have solid reputations and dedicated followers, but whose books are out of print. Ross Macdonald is viewed as a modern master of detective fiction; other mystery writers consider his work on a par with Chandler and Hammett. Most of his books are out of print. Ditto Earl Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason.

Old books, pre-1900, with illustrations are valuable. Make sure the illustrations are not photomechanically reproduced. Use your 10x loop to see if the image is made up of dots. If it is, walk away. If there are no dots, buy it.

Always check the flyleaf of every book you can. Sometimes you see a signed copy, which adds value. Books with a narrow field of subject matter, such as books on art or birds, usually had small print runs. Check titles on your smart phone to see availability and prices.

Price points: Don’t buy hardbacks above $3 or paperbacks above 50 cents.

In our next installment, we’ll give you the lowdown on furniture, clothes, frames and posters.

5 More Odd Things to See in Seattle Parks (South End Edition)

Following last weekend’s post on strange relics and memorials found in our city parks north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, it’s time to hunt out the unusual park attractions in the southern reaches of our city.

Start at Volunteer Park. As we have pointed out, Seattle has a seemingly disproportional number of tributes to the Spanish-American War. Clearly that war is notable for a large number of veterans who were active and successful at providing memorials to their fallen comrades. Volunteer Park is, in fact, named in honor of the young men and women who volunteered for our armed forces to fight and win that war.

Henry Seward (Photo: MvB)
Henry Seward, Volunteer Park (Photo: MvB)

Near the entrance to the conservatory, in the middle of a roundabout, is a great statue of William H. Seward. Without a doubt, Seward is one of the greatest American statesmen. He served as Secretary of State under Lincoln and negotiated the purchase of Alaska, the best bang for the buck our country ever got. He visited Seattle for two days in July, 1869. In fact, he was one of the first major American statesmen to come to the city.

The town went crazy with excitement. He was mobbed everywhere he went.  The grateful citizens of the Emerald City never forgot his kindness in stopping by. They honored his visit by naming a street after him, naming a park after him, and erecting a statue to him. Sculpted by the great artist Richard E. Brooks, it is one of the finest statues in the city, perhaps on the entire west coast. The Seward statue was paid for by pubic subscription and was created for the 1909 Alaska Yukon Exposition. It was moved to Volunteer Park in 1910.

The Bone (Photo: MvB)
“Block,” Charles Smith, Volunteer Park (Photo: MvB)

Before you leave Volunteer Park, drop by the kid’s play area. There you will see the usual assortment of cheap, press wood play structures and a large, white bone. The bone is a work of art entitled, “Block.” Created by Charles Smith in 1962, it honors Dorothy W. Block (1926-1961) who was Park Commissioner 1959-1961. It’s a fine example of mid-century American sculpture and holds its own against the immense popularity thrown of Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun.

Over the years, there has been occasional, uninformed criticism that this work of art, with its wonderful bone-like shape, is unsafe for use as a children’s playground piece. Poppycock. It hails from a time when artists wanted art that people could interact with. Children have a great time playing on the giant bone and it is, in my opinion, the best kids feature in any park in the city.

Homer Harris Park sculpture (Photo: MvB)
Homer Harris Park sculpture (Photo: MvB)

Leaving Volunteer Park, head over to the corner of 24th Avenue and E. Howell St. There you will find Homer Harris Park. This park was developed in the 1990s as a tribute to Dr. Harris, a dermatologist active from the early 1930s until the late ’90s. The park is small, but it is a wonderful gathering place. The park features magnificent and mystic sculptures with an Asian motif. The park doesn’t have one of those ubiquitous climbing structures that tend to ruin the lovely sightlines of our parks. Instead, it has a humble bark pit where kids can interact with the fun sculptures.

Homer Harris Park sculpture (Photo: MvB)
Homer Harris Park sculpture (Photo: MvB)

Homer Harris Park is a wonderful example of Seattle’s great park innovation of “pocket parks.” During the early 1970s, as part of the city’s landmark Forward Thrust projects, the city bought small lots or developed abandoned, random lots, into a network of small neighborhood parks. Another great pocket park is just down the street on 26th Avenue, between E. Howell and E. Olive, is Plum Tree Park, so named for a small orchard of plum trees.

Hat 'N' Boots (Photo: MvB)
Hat ‘n’ Boots, Oxbow Park (Photo: MvB)

Now, it’s time to head south to Georgetown for a visit to Oxbow Park. There you will find one big hat and a big pair of cowboy boots.

Programmatic Architecture is the art of designing a building in the shape of some well known object, usually as a sign of what could be purchased inside (think of a hot dog stand shaped like a hot dog). This style of architecture really took off in the 1930s and flourished until the 1960s. Seattle never had a lot of programmatic buildings, but it did have the Twin Teepees Restaurant and the Hat ‘n’ Boots gas station. When the Hat ‘n’ Boots gas station shut down in the 1980s, the huge buildings fell into ruin and were riddled with graffiti. When residents of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood rallied to save the structures, they were moved to Oxbow Park just around the corner from their original location. They have been lovingly repaired and repainted.

Exploring Seattle’s public parks remains one of the great joys of living here. This list of oddities, one-shots and artifacts is just a taste of the hidden or forgotten treasures that inhabit our parks and enrich our lives.  So don’t settle for just sunbathing, jogging or biking where the city tells you. Get out and explore your parks. You’ll be surprised by what you find.