Spotlight: Far Out Thinker

Known for risky documentaries, a Seattle artist brings alien ideas to the stage

Category: Arts + Events Articles


Linas Phillips wants to talk about aliens. “I believe they’re here,” the 32-year-old filmmaker and performer says in earnest. “I’m not interested in trying to prove their existence. What I’m interested in is talking about the implications, about how they can open up our perceptions to a kind of spiritual ecstatic experience.”

Phillips has made a career out of just this kind of pursuit of the “spiritual ecstatic experience.” From walking from Seattle to Los Angeles in search of a film idol in his celebrated 2006 documentary, Walking to Werner, to befriending Seattle’s homeless population in his 2008 feature, Great Speeches from a Dying World, Phillips’ artistic reputation is one of a fearless explorer of offbeat America. This focus has now led Phillips out from behind the camera and onto the stage at On the Boards for a two-man show called Lasagna or: How I learned to stop slipping towards the prison of permanent darkness, a production which he also wrote and directed.

 It’s about being lonely and poor and eating too much pasta. And aliens. Or maybe, what we talk about when we talk about aliens. “The subject really opens people up,” Phillips says of his extraterrestrial focus. “It brings out a different side of people, a side I find fascinating.” At press time the show was still in development, but it will involve live performance, video and audio segments. It will also include Jim Fletcher, the celebrated off-Broadway actor last seen in Seattle as Jay Gatsby in Gatz (at On the Boards), whom Phillips is thrilled to have as a collaborator. “He’s been such a great friend for such a long time, so the show is going to be about aliens, yes, but it’s also about friendship,” Phillips says with a laugh, “and porn.”

Whatever the subject—and he is serious about the aliens, as well as porn and friendship—Phillips has proven adept at expanding the customary parameters of what is acceptable on stage and in a performance, even in the notoriously louche film and theater communities.

“Linas is a performer who takes chances,” On the Boards artistic director Lane Czaplinski says with a laugh. “I first saw him in 2003 performing on stage as Klaus Kinski. He was in a tiger loincloth crawling around, yelling. It was amazing.”

That show, Linas Is Kinski, debuted at The Club in New York City and earned Phillips some notoriety as a performer on the fringe, but what set him apart from the other scenery-chewing theater freaks was his ability to reach in from way out and affect mainstream audiences. It’s the same quality that helped him gain recognition as a filmmaker—in 2006, Walking to Werner won Special Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, Best Director at the Northampton Film Festival and Best Feature at the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival.

But Czaplinski says he’s intrigued by the fact that most people forget Phillips was originally a stage actor. “For this show, I was really interested in revisiting him as I first met him,” he says, “as a performer and actor.”

Phillips, too, had been looking to re-engage with the theater. Before working on films, the native New Englander studied performance at NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing and was active in the performance scene in New York. He moved to Seattle in 2004, where he worked with acclaimed dance theater company 33 Fainting Spells while moonlighting as an actor and stand-up comedian.

“This show at On the Boards is a nice return to a lot of the things I thought about before filmmaking,” Phillips says, explaining that he decided to make movies in 2003, when he felt his performance work was in a creative rut. And while the result of that new direction wa