Northwest Actors Studio and its longtime artistic director, Ann Graham, are a subject of gossip in Seattle's theater scene. Seven associates of NWAS say the school and live-theater venue is drifting under the direction of Ms. Graham, who has been in charge since the Studio's birth in 1978. The people I spoke to all agreed she must loosen her grip if she wants the place to thrive. Theater companies that have staged shows in the venue complain about double booking, chaotic management, forgetfulness, and a resident dog who likes to pee on the floor.

"We love this place and the space is perfect for us," said Matt Perry, producer of Carlotta's Late Nite Wing Ding. "But there have been three managing directors in the last six months. The place is friendly, but disorganized."

Asked directly about these accusations of mismanagement Graham said, "I'm sure there have been a few mistakes over the years." She declined to specify further, and hastened to shift blame for recent difficulties onto a former staffer.

Less delicate detractors aren't hard to find, but they are reluctant to speak on the record, both because they wish the Studio well and don't want to rile Ms. Graham. "It's very, very sad," said one current NWAS employee. "The place could be so much more. Ann is a great teacher, but I wish she would let go, for the Studio's sake."

"Why NWAS is still around is a mystery to us all," said a former student and Studio affiliate. "Running a theater is not a one-woman business."

Iris Urban, one of the recently departed managing directors, said there was one particular donor who keeps NWAS running. "They should rename the place after him," she said.

A better legacy might be suggesting some changes before he writes his next check.

In other troubled local theater company news, let's revisit the hard-luck tale of the Union Garage, now the Union Playhouse. About nine months ago, the theater failed a sudden inspection. Firefighters counted seats that had been added since the theater's last inspection and said the UG needed a certificate of assembly.

That kicked off a chain of code problems, from seismic to fire to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The Union Playhouse is looking at approximately $140,000 of needed renovations, if they can muster around $60,000 worth of volunteer unskilled labor. So far they've raised a few thousand, but it's still a long row to hoe.

Should company managers have known about the code restrictions? Well, perhaps. But arts management should be competent, not encyclopedic. The Playhouse made an understandable, but very expensive, oversight. By all other accounts, the Playhouse is a well-run joint. It's too bad that the Playhouse doesn't have an indulgent benefactor with deep pockets.

brendan@thestranger.com

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