Almost a year ago, when the demise of Empty Space Theatre was announced on Slog, the familiar debate flared up in the comments thread: Was the theater's death a tragedy or just a little creative destruction, necessary thinning of the old to make way for the new?
One commenter (handle: John Galt) wrote, "'Creative destruction' would be fine—all we're missing now is the 'creation' part." A year later, here it goes. In two weeks, two new, small theaters will open on Capitol Hill.
First there's Annex, which moved out of Capitol Hill Arts Center and into the neglected Northwest Actors Studio on 11th Avenue and Pike Street three months ago. (Their new rent: $30,000 a year.) It's a happy situation all around—nothing good had happened at NWAS for a long time, the excellent location wasted on the tattered, wheezing geezer it had become. And Annex productions have grown wan since it turned itinerant in 2001. Here's hoping Annex brings life to its new theater and vice versa. I Feel Fine, by the spacey, free-associating duo Helsinki Syndrome, opens October 12.
Second, and slightly bafflingly, there's Balagan Theatre, named after a Hebrew word for "crazy." It's a year-old company that found a home on the ground floor of a new building on 12th Avenue and Pike Street, beneath several floors of condominiums. (Their rent: $50,000 a year.) Executive directors Jake Groshong and Kaitie Warren spent six months investigating more than 50 places to build a theater, from an $80,000-a-year space in Belltown (it didn't have the right permits) to a $40,000-a-year basement on Eastlake (the bar upstairs was too loud).
The company plans to build two stages, one with a bar, and a school. Its first production, Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9, opens October 18.
The baffling part: Balagan is young and unproven. Its productions have been mixed, from a well-liked version of Don Nigro's The Transylvanian Clockworks to The Spinning, an execrable S&M musical in iambic pentameter that couldn't even manage to be titillating. The company hasn't been around long enough to qualify for most grants, so who's giving it money for its new space?
Sugar daddies and mamas. The company has a fleet of private donors and Groshong is a professional fundraiser for Jewish Family Services. "There are 25 people in our company," he says. "We make it clear that fundraising is not just for one or two people—it's for everybody."
Balagan's beginnings and ambitions are equally immodest. "We want to bring back that quality that the Group Theater and the Empty Space had," Groshong says. "There's something missing in Seattle—and we want to fill that hole."