Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Long Slow Roll of Economics

The Seattle Weekly starts off this year with a sobering and nostalgic article charting the course from the rainy city's theatrical beginnings, through its explosion in the 80's and 90's and finishing with the current struggles it faces.

The Empty Space Theatre and its recent closing haunts the article and its memory is evoked for both celebratory reminiscence and evidence of harsh economic realities.

Of course, a certain amount of opening and closing is expected in every industry. It's even healthy, up to a point—thank the god of Rational Cuisine that there are fewer fusion restaurants open today than 10 years ago, for example. And the dot-com crash and post-9/11 whammy was tough for all sorts of businesses that depend on people with extra cash and leisure time.

In the case of theaters, they sometimes close for the best of reasons,
like artists leaving to try their luck on the stages of New York or the
soundstages of L.A., or admitting to themselves that their work is uneven, or just because they aren't having fun any more. When these things happen, you might feel a tug of melancholy as you walk past a former theater that's now a hair salon or vacant lot awaiting condos, but that's all.

The death of the Empty Space stung. It was different.

The author of the piece, John Logenbaugh, really nails the importance of the midsized theatre:

For many directors looking to cast local productions, the Space was an invaluable link between the unsalaried work of the fringe theaters and the paying professional work of the mainstages. "The Space worked under the conditions of a professional theater. If a younger actor had worked there, you knew that they knew the drill," says Beattie. "Young talented actors had a way to achieve vocation, a mentoring through their work. When the midsized theaters go, casting for us is so much more of a total leap of faith....."

Logenbaugh's coda is that Seattle should not feel secure about its prominence thriving place for theatre. Instead, he sees troubling portents in the loss of the middle ground between fringe and Lort-B.

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