From Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic:
After 21 years presenting plays in a cozy basement venue on Capitol Hill, Theater Schmeater is house-hunting. The long-running, well-attended fringe theater company has been at 1500 Summit Ave., under Brocklind’s Costume Shop, since 1992. But the now-closed costume shop is being replaced by a restaurant, and Schmeater artistic director Doug Staley says it is time to move on to a new stage.
Hunters Capital, the building’s new owners, wanted the theater to remain, according to Staley. But because the new restaurant will have a bar and a hardwood floor, the noise could drown out Schmeater’s productions without soundproofing renovations that would be “prohibitively expensive” for the low-budget arts group.
Staley says Hunters Capital is giving Schmeater six months of free rent while the theater offers its final production in the space (the audience-participation piece “Game Show,” which runs July 19 through Aug. 17), and searches for new digs.
“We’d like to stay on Capitol Hill,” he notes. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity to grow. We’ve squeezed everything we could out of our little space, and we’d like to find somewhere we could expand a little — from 48 seats to about 75. And it would be nice to have a theater without big columns in it!”
Schmeater is a largely volunteer operation, and Staley says it carries no debt. “We have a lot of advantages — we don’t owe any money, we have some time to raise funds, and we have a good reputation in this community. I’m optimistic we’ll find what we need.”
“We’ve tried to provide full theater experiences in a small room,” says Staley. Theater Schmeater is also well known for staging episodes of the old TV sci-fi series, “The Twilight Zone,” and regularly presenting free shows in local parks. The family-oriented production for this summer, “The Magic Pudding,” runs at Volunteer Park from June 29-July 28.
Remaining on Capitol Hill could be challenging, however, due to high market rents, ongoing commercial real estate development, and competition for space among nonprofit arts groups. Though the new, city-backed 12th Avenue Arts complex will have three fringe theaters in residence (New Century Theatre Company, Washington Ensemble Theatre and Strawberry Theatre Workshop), another respected Capitol Hill company, Balagan Theatre, also is looking for a new home.
For more information about Theatre Schmeater, or real estate tips, contact Doug Staley: firstname.lastname@example.org.