Steve Wells is retiring. Re-bar's part owner and theater impresario has sold his half of the business and is leaving booking duties to Seattle theater veteran Ian Bell. Half dance club, half theater, and all bar, Re-bar is one of Seattle's most distinctive performance venues. "It has a strong identity, like CBGB," Bell said. "You say the name and it means something."
For theatergoers, Re-bar has come to mean smart, unpretentious, and funny productions and the occasional howler—but even its disasters (Saucy Jack, anyone?) achieve legendary status.
Wells ran Re-bar's theater seasons without a mission statement, board, or any other institutional formalities: "I wanted creative people to come in and have successes. I just always said: 'It better be funny.'" He succeeded, proving that the best theater is a bar. Re-bar has hosted a ton of excellent, memorable productions, some of them launching pads for artists who vaulted to bigger stages: Dina Martina, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Poona the Fuckdog, Go There (Sarah Rudinoff), Deflowered in the Attic (Imogen Love), Extropia (Collaborator), Cherry, Cherry, Lemon (Keri Healey), Sister Windy (Kevin Kent), Straight (David Schmader), and performances of Macbeth, Saint Joan, The Children's Hour, etc., by Greek Active Theater, founded by Dan Savage.
Wells opened Re-bar in 1981 on $20,000 and volunteer labor. "It was one of the few bars where straight and gay people mixed and played black music," Wells said. "For a long time, straight people thought it was a gay bar and gay people thought there were too many straight people, but Re-bar is exactly what my partners and I wanted: a bunch of people who just don't give a fuck."
Ian Bell (artistic director of Bald Faced Lie and managing director of SketchFest Seattle) managed his first theater as a high schooler in Portland, Oregon, where he built a black box for a late-night cabaret he put on with his friends. "I can't think of anyone more capable and willing than Ian," Wells said. "He's an actor, director, producer, playwright, designer, and he's worked here. He knows what is and isn't okay for Re-bar." Bell was also the distinguished recipient of lightly veiled death threats for his 2000 play Return to the Garden of Allah. "I guess some folks didn't think the word 'Allah' and a drag queen belonged on the same poster," Bell said.
Wells and Bell have co-booked three fall shows: a remount of Delaware, a solo piece by Collaborator's Michael McQuilken, and a Dina Martina production. Then, Wells said, "she's turning 16 and I'm handing over the car keys."
And what is Wells planning to do now?
"I'm going to learn how to type. I'm going to get my house together. I'm going to learn to play banjo. I love the banjo."