Where do small theatre companies take the stage when their affordable performance spaces can no longer afford the rent? While many actors having long been priced out of the neighborhood, the Capitol Hill theatre community is losing another piece of its charm: affordable rents.
Rik Deskin, the founder of Eclectic Theater, has announced the end of the venue’s 11-year run on 10th Ave at the end of the month.
“We knew that we had a five year lease, and we knew the end was coming. We started exploring the possibility of renewing the lease,” Deskin said. “At the same time, we were having difficulties paying the current rent so we decided to not renew the lease. We heard from some other people who looked into it that he’s expecting $3,500 a month for the space, which is ridiculous in my opinion. With no upgrades, not that I’m aware of.”
“Capitol Hill is the densest area of arts and culture businesses and organizations in the state,” says Tonya Lockyer, executive director at the neighborhood’s globally respected Velocity Dance. “Imagine if you have this incredible natural resource — creative businesses, organizations, and people. When that is threatened, you want to preserve it.”
As co-chair of the Capitol Hill Arts District, Lockyer is using Velocity’s 20 years of experience on the neighborhood’s 12th Ave to help younger artists and organizations find and keep their footing on an increasingly expensive Hill. The results so far provide hope that Capitol Hill will remain a wildly artful preserve in the middle of Seattle’s boom economy. The district includes more than 40 member arts organizations.
Unsure of what’s next for his theater’s space, Deskin has some ideas of what the owner’s plans might be. “What I do know from conversations with my neighbors, is that the building is going to be sold and a new property will be developed there in the next two years. In my understanding, we were the only ones that had a lease…”
According to King County property records, the auto row-era building continues to be held by its longtime family owners.
To have a fighting chance, even with climbing rents, theatre groups might find the Capitol Hill environment to be their best chance at survival.
As it stands, there are five, sub-100 seat, theatre spaces on Capitol Hill; Annex Theatre with 99 seats, The Black Box theatre at 12th Ave Arts with 67 seats, 18th and Union, Eclectic Theatre and Calamus Auditorium at Gay City Arts, each with 49 seats. With Eclectic Theater closing its doors for the last time on October 31st, that number drops to four venues which will impact the work that’s possible by smaller theatre companies.
“There’s a lot of itinerant companies in the community. Some of them are renting space at 12th Ave Arts… As far as other groups, groups that worked with us, a lot of them are not going to be able to afford a larger space. We’re basically the last space, besides Annex,” Deskin tells CHS.
Matthew Richter, the city’s Cultural Space Liaison and coordinator for the arts district program, says Capitol Hill’s artful nature is part of the neighborhood’s ongoing cycles of decay, and decomposition.
“Even at the atomic level, there is very little of your body that remains unchanged,” Richter says. “What’s the thing that is consistent through that?,” Richter asks. “On a biological level, it’s DNA. What about the soul? Cultural assets are that soul allowing consistency through that change.”
Richter says his role with the city program is more of a facilitator and provider of resources. He helps Lockyer and the community of organizations around the Hill district get the tools they need but leaves how the city’s support will be used to the individual groups and artists.
“Standing on 11th between Pike and Pine, you’re at the center of so many different models,” Richter says. “Not just organizations but different models for existence.”
So, what should folks do who appreciate live theatre on Capitol Hill? Give them your money. “Find ways to support the theatre that remains. We’ve got a pledge page on on website,” Deskin said. “The donations go to Shunpike, who is our fiscal sponsor. If they can support us, or support other companies. I want to see that happen.”
You can learn more here.