Capitol Hill’s new Black Box could stage live theater transformation in Seattle

A moment of discussion at a New Century Theatre Company rehearsal (Image: Truman Buffett Photography via New Century Theatre Company)

A moment of discussion at a New Century Theatre Company rehearsal (Image: Truman Buffett Photography via New Century Theatre Company)

Next year, three Capitol Hill theater companies will be moving into the 12th Ave Arts building, Capitol Hill Housing’s theater+affordable housing project currently under construction near 12th and Pine where the East Precinct’s old parking lot used to sit. Aside from a much deserved upgrade in space and venue control for the three neighborhood companies, the new performance space will also mark a major shift in independent theater around central Seattle.

Greg Carter, founder of the Strawberry Theater Workshop, tells CHS there’s no medium-sized venue in the neighborhood equipped to handle the increasing number of theater companies that need to rent space for their performances. Space is in such high demand that the lauded Strawshop company won’t put on a major play this year because they couldn’t find a venue.

“12th Ave. Arts could be a real game changer for small theater companies,” Carter said.

The Strawshop will join the Washington Ensemble Theater and New Century Theater Company in the 12th Ave Arts building when it opens next year. Carter said the companies are planning to be in the new space by October 2014. CHS reported on the 12th Ave Arts groundbreaking ceremony in February.

Carter said he thinks the new digs will expand the indie theater audience on the Hill and tap into the regional ticket sales that are often dominated by larger productions in Queen Anne and downtown. Carter said having a year-round destination for small theater companies will also allow people outside the Hill to get into a routine of finding restaurants and parking in the area.

“People could wind up coming to the same building five to six times a year,” he said. “People will feel just as comfortable coming to Capitol Hill as they are with going to Queen Anne.”

Once Capitol Hill Housing made plans for a new theater space, they needed a partner to run it. Carter said Strawshop was considered, but the company would never be able to pay the rent on their own. That’s when he asked WET and NCTC if they would partner up and form a new entity to run the space. CHC loved it.

“They were looking for a group in the community,” Carter said. “There were the artists the community wants to see.”

Last year the three theater companies formed Black Box Operations to manage the space. The board is comprised of two members from each of the three theater companies. The companies will rent the space from Black Box, which will serve as a strictly administrative body.

The 12th Ave Arts building will have two performance spaces: one with a 150 person capacity, the other with an 80 person capacity. The three theater companies will book the theaters depending on the show.

Carter said that about one third of the schedule will be open for other companies to rent out the theater.

Black Box will also allow the continued management of the space in the likely event that one or all of the companies leaves sometime in the future.

“Our industry changes a lot. Five years from now there’s a good chance we all won’t be operating or we’ll have grown and moved on,” Carter said.

Black Box, if things go as planned, will be there to keep theater alive at 12th Ave Arts.

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