by Brendan Kiley

There is a new kid on the theatrical block.

Though the Capitol Hill Arts Center hasn't even officially opened yet, several worthy performers have already graced its stages, including Nu Soltribe, Theater Simple (with Andrew Litzky's one-man Notes from Underground), Amy Denio, Children of the Revolution, and the New Style Collective (the music, painting, and performance extravaganza Art Bomb!). Moreover, it has secured its place as headquarters for the 2003 Fringe Festival.

In conversation, CHAC director Matthew Kwatinetz comes across as a dreamy idealist. "The thing that is going to make us different is that people working here have been paying their dues for years and years," said Kwatinetz. "This is all of our dreams coming true together."

Kwatinetz helped sire reBirth, which began two years ago as an open-mic poetry series in a Broadway cafe and evolved into a broader vision of "inspiring social consciousness through collaborative performance." Kwatinetz sought a permanent space in over 20 locations on Capitol Hill, and had nearly given up hope when he walked into a building on 12th and Pine (formerly the Morningside Academy, a nonprofit laboratory school) looking for a five-day rental for reBirth's Waging Peace performance series.

"I realized this was the venue," Kwatinetz said. "Just the feel of the place: brick, wood floor, and timbers. It was built in 1917, the year of Lenin's revolution. We're not just trying to build a theater. We're building a community space for various kinds of performances."

There has been some quiet grumbling from some corners of the arts community, however.

"At CHAC, you start out with one rental price and all of a sudden they attach costs they never mentioned," said Donia Love, director of Ignis Devoco Industrial Fire Circus. "The space situation in Seattle is dire for artists. If you're going to say you provide a space for the community, open it up to the community."

Kwatinetz said he was surprised by Love's charges of double-dealing. "We're very interested in developing long-term relationships with people," he said. "It would never be to our advantage to trick people. We want to be a long-term player in Seattle--to provide a place where people can grow and bloom."

This sort of transition space is necessary in Seattle, a town with precious little middle ground between fringe and the big time. Tellingly, even CHAC's critics hope it will succeed. "It's a gorgeous space," said Donia Love. "It would be ideal if the management walked their talk."

Rob West, artistic director for Theater Schmeater, also hopes CHAC will emerge as a theatrical powerhouse. Fringe theaters don't compete against each other, he explained. "We compete against movie theaters. As far as fringe goes, the more the merrier."

Andrew Litzky of Theater Simple agreed. "Rents have gone up so much for theatrical organizations that it's become very, very difficult to rent spaces. If people can afford to produce at the CHAC, it will be a great thing."

Catering to emerging artists while providing quality performance space is a difficult trick. First, Kwatinetz and company need to convince the arts community they are plain dealers. If they can pull it off--and feature events worth attending--CHAC promises to be one of the most interesting performance venues in town.