Capitol Hill theater groups announced as 12th Ave Arts resident companies

Scene from recent WET production, The Callers (Image: WET)

A triumvirate of Capitol Hill theater groups has won the bid to become resident companies in the performance space of the 12th Ave Arts development planned to replace a police department parking lot.

The big announcement for the organizations came Saturday at the gala fundraiser for the Washington Ensemble Theatre:


WET currently performs in the charming but cramped Little Theater space on 19th Ave E, while Strawberry Theatre Works currently calls the Erickson Theatre home. The New Century Theatre Company’s just wrapped up a show presented at Cornish’s Raisbeck Performance Hall. At least one other theater in the Pike/Pine area is excited about the potential for a concentrated performing arts district in the neighborhood. 12th Ave is already home to the Velocity Dance Center while smaller entities like Odd Duck Studio hold fort in the recesses on the edge of Pike/Pine.

The new 29,000 square-foot 12th Ave Arts building is a Capitol Hill Housing project and will include around 80 apartments, office space, parking for the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, and 6,000 square feet of theater space described as “a proposed 149-seat raked theater with fixed sets, and an 80-seat flexible black box space.”

The organization could soon find itself in need of office space like the facilities also planned for the development — CHH’s current headquarters is slated to be demolished if early plans for this 10th/Union development go forward.

(Image: Capitol Hill Housing)

We looked at the financing of the $38 million arts and affordable housing project and the capital campaign to help raise funds from the community for the project last month: What 12th Ave Arts project replacing SPD parking lot will look like (+ how you can help).

Construction is expected to begin this summer with completion of the project in early 2014.

Last we checked, the logistical details of finding a temporary secured parking area for the East Precinct were still being worked out.

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6 thoughts on “Capitol Hill theater groups announced as 12th Ave Arts resident companies

  1. The building is apparently funded. And, I’m guessing the apartments are managed by Capitol Hill Housing and the Police Department is paying some kind of rent for the parking.

    And, all three of these theater companies have been around for quite awhile and know how to raise funds and stay on budget.

  2. Ah, Capitol Hill, this is really something. This 12th Ave Arts project proves it.

    First, a disclaimer: I don’t live on Capitol Hill. I work here. I am a teacher at Seattle Academy, the Community Business Liaison (because I asked to do it), and am Secretary on the 12th Ave Stewards Committee. I co-own Vino Verite at the other end of Capitol Hill, on Boylston and Olive Way. I’m lucky to be able to do both. I have two kids under the age of five, and my wife works for Neighborcare Health on the Hill too.

    When Dave and I went to open Vino Verite, we surveyed a number of communities. Wherever we were considering a space, we would walk the streets nearby, and stop people to ask what they thought of a wine shop. Just about every neighborhood had people who sounded hesitant, non-committal. Capitol Hill was the only place where people said, “that’d be great! I’d shop there. You should do it!” So we opened on Capitol Hill. We have no investors for the business besides the two of us. We used our own elbow grease and cash. Dave had the dimensions for the wine racks in his head and we built them. We laid the floor ourselves, we bought a dishwasher from Craig’s List, we moved some walls and opened our doors. In short, we half expected to get our butts kicked. But it’s been great. We’re not rolling in it by any stretch, but it’s been great.

    I went to the recent Capitol Hill Housing celebration of the 12th Ave Arts Development. It was held at a beautiful house just off Capitol Hill, and lots of nameable people were there: Sally Clark, Nick Licatta, Michael Shiosaki, Dow Constantine, Tim Burgess, Roger Nyhus. I expected a PR oriented evening.

    But you know what? People were in a genuinely good mood. I asked around and the theme was, “this is something to build on.” It seemed very real.

    During the question and answer session, I decided to ask what I termed an “idealistic question”: “Given all the projects that could have been proposed and built on this space, how were you successful in getting this done? I think 20 years from now we’ll be talking about this building. In short, how’d you do it?” Christopher Persons, who was fielding the questions, joked at first: “I think all questions after this should be modeled on this question.” There was a generous laugh around the room, but I tell you, then it turned serious. Chris choked up a bit as he explained “rolling the giant rock up a hill” as the project developed.

    His bottom line, and I quote: “it was proposed many times to me, let’s make this 29,000sq foot place somewhere else. But I said, no, this space is going to be right here. It needs to be right here. It will be in this community—and no offense to other vibrant, interesting Seattle communities—it needs to be in what is perhaps the most vibrant, diverse community in Seattle.”

    It was clear to me that folks believed in what is being done here. The negotiation (some call it a fight) with the police union about parking spaces was worth it. And for those who are upset with the police, I always say this: if you want to do their job, sign up. Now.

    In 1990 I did a ride along with a policeman from the East Precinct on Capitol Hill. It was a night shift. On that shift I learned that I knew very little about anything. I learned that the word “backup” has a very real meaning. And I learned that no confrontation has a simple entrance and outcome.

    I also remember seeing my first show at WET. It was Crave. I had never seen such present, intense, engrossing theater. Later I was able to work with WET founding members Marya Sea Kaminsky and Marc Kenison. They were genuine, passionate, and they were committed to providing, as the WET mission statement still reads, “immediate and accessible theater to a diverse audience.” Have you seen the season this year? All the shows are risky, difficult, engaging, edgy. This may sound like a simple statement, but I’ll say it again, if you want to do their job, sign up. Now.

    I’m no artist, but I always liked Nick Nolte’s line from “Life Lessons,” one of the shorts from the not so successful film, New York Stories: “You make art because you have to, because you got no choice. It’s not about talent, it’s about no choice but to do it.”

    When I think of the whole 12th Ave Arts Project, and the theater groups invited to be a part of it, that is what I think of. Now, I don’t agree with Nolte’s “no talent” comment, but these folks who will be in the heart of Capitol Hill making art are doing it because it’s in them. They have no choice.

    So this isn’t about what can’t be done. It’s about what will happen.
    I’ll stake my reputation on this, community and otherwise: the 12th Ave Arts Building is going to be a defining project. It will provide a voice for hipsters, anarchists, families, and youth.

    But only if we show up.

  3. I share your concern. When we are watching the Intiman struggle to stay afloat, I just hope that the financing of this project doesn’t leave a huge debt burden on any one party (be it CHH, the theatre companies or any other tenants). The best way for this project to succeed is for no one to be shackled with debt that they cannot afford. I worry when I look at the numbers here that this might be the case. I sincerely hope that CHH has not over extended themselves here.