Theater Jan 25, 2017 at 4:00 am

How the Successful Circus Cabaret Got Ejected by an Ordinary Land Deal

“I don’t want to lose the staff, and I don’t want to start over.” Alan Alabastro


What I find crazy is that ZinZanni has been doing excellent business for nearly two decades, and charging between $99 and $179 per seat at their dinner shows. When my workplace had our Christmas party there a few years back, we dropped $10k for one night's dinner and entertainment - and we were just one of several groups there that night. If they had been properly preparing for the future, they should easily be able to afford to acquire land for their show - especially considering that their facilities are all temporary and mobile by design.

The Great Recession should have afforded them plenty of opportunity to acquire a suitable plot of land within the city. It's a bummer to hear that they're being left out to dry, but they've been playing with fire by only having a short-term lease.
Arts organizations such as Teatro Zinzanni are what make Seattle beautiful, colorful, interesting and valuable. This cavalier approach to this predicament seems almost like a high-stakes of "gotcha". YOU didn't plan ahead, YOU didn't foresee the future, YOU didn't make adequate plans for capitalist displacement of a cultural institution. Ha-ha, we told you so! GOTCHA!

In reading the article it sounds like the Teatro Zinzanni director did make inquiries, did pursue other options, did approach his landlord (another arts organization!), did do his due diligence. But his sin appears to be a lack of sophistication and perhaps too much trust that another Seattle Arts Institution would act honorably and be helpful.

This is not a laughing matter, not to the 100's of employees nor to the 1000's of supporters of this unusual dinner theater circus. Victim-shaming, especially in our current political climate, is not needed, welcomed nor deserved and blaming the victims (the director, circus folks, artists and the administrators) is not helpful and is disrespectful of their creativity and hard work.

These are artists and our creative cultural capital we're talking about here. The closing of this Seattle institution will be just another nail in the coffin of Seattle's creativity.

Yes, it's expensive to attend. But TZ pays creative artists well enough to live in our city-- can we really begrudge them that? And now they may lose their jobs. This cannot be a good thing.

Some may read this article and blame Teatro Zinzanni for not being pro-active. I read this and blame Seattle Opera. it seems to me that the Seattle Opera could have assisted TZ in crafting an offer that would allow them to make money and keep TZ there in the neighborhood. It could be a win/win situation, Seattle Opera would be a hero, and Teatro Zinzanni could go on and continue entertaining audiences and employing their crazy cast of singers, performers, jugglers and clowns.

Here's hoping and praying for an angel, one who flies in clothed in a leopard suit, juggling fire and riding a unicycle.
I started visiting in 2010 or early 2011 and the offered shows really started going downhill and/or seeming like rehashes. I canceled my last year's plans after I saw the ridiculous-looking "Be Italian" show that seemed to be designed for a crowd from a good 20 years ago.

Whoever was curating and creating the performance content is to blame. They aren't putting on shows that are worth the money and the dishes are either weird or acceptable, but never amazing.

Dropping money further away by Pink Door is a better bet. I have always had amazing food and great service there, and their burlesque show (last one I saw featured Cherdonna) is always worth it if you can get in – but still easier and cheaper than getting seats at Teatro ZinZanni.

TZZ is failing because of the same reason of so many other big institutions in this city - they kept tramlining along on their old ways and did nothing to update themselves significantly for years, and it caught up to them very quickly. It has been very disappointing to have joined a sort of tradition for 3 years only to suddenly lose interest in following years as offered shows looked very much like shows I'd already seen and meal options were equally uninspiring.

It *sucks*. I have wonderful memories from watching and participating. But the floor really fell out from them.
If you have a business, and you don't own the land/building you operate out of, you will eventually be priced out. Particularly if you do something "cool" or artsy. Cool/artsy businesses tend to be long on heart and dreams, and short on business sense, and this seems to be the case again here. All businesses fear relocation--there's no guarantee the clientele will follow you even a short distance into a new neighborhood, but for something with the unique resource requirements of TZ, relocation is (obviously) even more difficult. 20k square feet at non-market rates in Central Seattle? Not going to happen. If TZ's business plan didn't include squirreling away enough money to buy their own land, it was doomed to failure.

America does not favor renters, or artists. This is not news.
Those of us old enough to remember that far back know that Norm Langill started out as a performing artist who eventually sidled into the producing side of show business, but he's always been an artist at heart, not a sophisticated businessman looking at the bottom line and maximizing profits over anything else. Nobody goes into the arts - and stays there - to get rich. So maybe he was being a bit Pollyanna-ish to think that whatever deal came of the sale of their lot, things might work out for them. It's a hard, cold dose of Seattle Reality to realize that this town now values their arts and culture institutions far less than the march of progre$$.

In the best of all possible worlds, Washington Holding would/should consider incorporating a permanent home for TZ in whatever they eventually build on the site. That was TZ's plan if they could have purchased the property, and that is their dream for when they eventually reopen in San Francisco - for the spiegeltent to be built into an onsite hotel, as a permanent attraction. To have an anchor tenant like that, bringing in a steady stream of tourists and cirque/cabaret-goers, could only enhance a property's value, in my opinion.

It's a shame that Seattle Opera - which was making money off of renting an empty lot to TZ for many years - couldn't/wouldn't have worked with TZ a bit more closely to help out their fellow artists. Over the years, they must have known that Langill was not the most savvy businessman/negotiator, but if they truly appreciated what TZ brings to the city, they would not have made a sale of the land contingent on it being "free of tenants" at closure.

Finally, a note to MrSteve007 regarding the cost of attending Teatro ZinZanni: It might seem expensive at first blush, but when you consider that it includes a five-course meal and a 3+ hour show in an amazingly unique/beautiful setting, then compare it to comparable experiences, it becomes clear that they're not gouging their audiences to make a buck. Indeed, if they were, audiences would have stopped going long ago.
All the comments here about their programming and whether it appeals to you or not are missing the point. This has nothing to do with whether or not TZ is "good" or successful. By all accounts it's been packing people in, making the rent, and paying 100 people.

The story isn't: "People stopped going to TZ and it's going out of business."
The story is: "Despite their success, the land is worth more than they are."
I was under the impression that when they moved to this location, they knew it was "temporary" and would have to move once the site was sold or to be developed...

--did not finish the article... off to work...
TZ is a successful business. They have had a lot of years to try to put themselves into a more secure location or arrangement. They did not do so. Does it suck? Yes. Is it the landlord's fault? No.
“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.”
― Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching
They new this location was never intended to be permanent and they've been successful for a number of years but somehow it's the "greedy land owners" fault that they've never made alternate arrangements?

They moved once already and survived...
Why is WA Holdings being such dicks about the property needing to be empty?

"All Turds eventually swirl down the Crapper."
–Hwung Whwang Dong
@2 The same people that think that tenants failing to have a clue/plan is a "GOTCHA' -- are the same people that think that variable rate mortgages are entrapment. At what point will the excuse-makers wake-up and take responsibility for their own circumstance and interests, instead of wandering the economic landscape tumbling into clearly marked wells?
I have a huge barn in Monroe they could practice in.
@12 It was covered in the article:

I asked Maria Barrientos of Washington Holdings whether it would be possible for ZinZanni to stay. She says that "the purchase and sale agreement with the Opera stipulates that we would purchase the site free of all tenants. We don't yet know when construction would begin, but assuming we do close on the site, we would begin subsurface pre-development site work immediately, which requires us to have unobstructed access to the entire site."

According to Barrientos, the first 18 months of pre-development involves "drilling under the site in a number of locations to evaluate soil and subsurface conditions at a host of depths. The eastern half of the block, in particular, has not been adequately studied as the existing improvements, consisting of the Teatro Zinzanni tent and their associated modular structures, sit on the land in this area."

In addition to environmental testing, Barrientos says they need to "verify below-grade utility locations, many of which are unknown, as they were installed before the city started mapping locations," and also shut off water and electricity to the area during this process.

This is pretty standard stuff if you're buying property to develop. I saw this happen at work when my employer decided to buy a property it had been leasing for a long time. Especially the drilling.
Washington Holdings and these real estate people have no heart. I've lived across the street from teatro zinzanni since it's been at this location. I've gone to shows since I was a kid and been living in the same building as these lovely artist and performers. They are kind people with families and really deserve more consideration. They want to replace teatro zinzanni with an apartment complex with 350 units and 270 parking lots. Making a building taller than 5 stories which was all that was allowed in lower Queen Anne. Building something on this scale WILL be detrimental to this area and it is so disappointing to see how few people care. Seattle is selling out and becoming heartless.
TZ's wooden spiegeltent does not meet most city occupancy codes as is. I'm truly sorry that this is how the One Reel Productions empire ends, with the closing of a dinner theater, because Langill didn't think he had to respond to the same rules the rest of the world does. It is always sad when actors are out of work, but I hold Langill responsible for that. The TZ in San Francisco was on one of the piers, (rumored so they could get around the stronger code enforcement in that town). It closed in 2011 when the pier was taken over by the America's Cup; they are still looking for a new home for that as well.

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