Trading Spaces

by Bret Fetzer

In the fringe-theater world, having your own performance space is a mixed blessing; it offers more control over your productions, some security, and a home base around which to build an audience, but it also brings the burden of upkeep and monthly rent. Producing often enough to pay these costs can be exhausting; even renting out a venue takes work, and runs the risk of abuses by careless renters. Seeking to find a new kind of balance, Seattle Mime Theatre--which runs the Chamber Theater, one of Seattle's oldest fringe-performance spaces, on the fourth floor of the Oddfellows Hall in Capitol Hill--is seeking to turn its theater from a rental venue into a home for a collective of resident performing artists.

When asked for the motivating factors behind the change, SMT's Bruce Wylie replied, "SMT is in a relatively quiet stage, no pun intended. We're not producing as much new work, and the energy we used to provide the venue isn't the driving force it used to be. Rental income has actually been okay--over the years it's been a break-even business, which is as it should be for a nonprofit. But here we have an underused and essentially randomly used facility which we think can benefit from more focus and structure."

SMT is looking for three to five other artists--groups or individuals--who will perform in the theater, share the attached office space, and shoulder part of the financial burden of rent. The group has a preference for other physical theater or dance practitioners, seeking to create a compatible stylistic brand for the venue (which may help ensure that all the residents have similar needs and sensibilities as well), but it will consider applications from any group that can demonstrate itself to be competent and reasonably stable.

Wylie speculated, "If this association of artists presented a season of work, would it create crossover audiences, attract attention from funders, reinforce publicity efforts? What if rental income actually increased because dark weekends could be eliminated through efficient scheduling?" A handful of dance and theater artists have expressed interest, but "we're still in the germ stage," said Wylie.