Theatre Puget Sound and Cornish Vie for Seattle Center Playhouse Lease
On August 21, Theatre Puget Sound, the trade and service organization that counts as members more than 140 area arts organizations, makes its final presentation to a Seattle Center Advisory Commission regarding their proposal to run the Center’s Playhouse (formerly leased by Intiman Theatre) as an arts incubator.
They’ve written up a 16-page proposal, bolstered by pages and pages of letters of support from arts groups. As the current lessees of the Center’s Center House and Black Box theaters and Studio4 (on the fourth floor of the Center House), TPS would look to be a shoo-in. Except.
Cornish College of the Arts would also like in. Cornish, mentioning as an aside its $3 million in reserves, makes this a competition between two 400-pound gorillas. But their aims are quite different.
Cornish wants to take over management of the Playhouse primarily for its own student productions–the college produces more than 150 performances and exhibitions each year, and they would like to bring music and drama performances, especially, to a higher-visibility location. Cornish’s proposal emphasizes its compatibility with the reduced-in-size Intiman; besides complementary schedules (Cornish is happy to hand off the Playhouse to Intiman for summer festivals), Cornish is inarguably, inextricably part of the arts ecosystem in Seattle, as their proposal notes:
- Cornish Theater Chair Richard E.T. White is a member of Intiman Theatre’s Artistic Collective, as are faculty members Marya Sea Kaminski and Sheila Daniels.
- Artists involved in the 2012 Intiman Summer Season include Cornish faculty members Timothy McCuen Piggee, Marya Sea Kaminski, Carol Roscoe, Wade Madsen and Geof Alm, alumni Quinn Armstrong, Jerick Hoffer, Fawn Ledesma, Sara Peterson and Kayla Walker, as well as current student interns Jonathan Crimeni, Andrew Highlands, Holly McNeill, Jonathon Pyburn, Angela Rose Sink and Megan Tuschhoff.
- Artistic Director Andrew Russell directed last fall’s Cornish Theater/Performance Production presentation of Oo-Bla-Dee by Regina Taylor.
Cornish is offering $3,000 per month rent for 2013, increasing to $5,000 per month for succeeding years. On a square-footage basis, this would rank as one of the sweetest commercial real estate deals in Seattle–but Cornish also suggests that included as rent would be in-kind services (tickets given away for events) and sub-market-rate rentals to other arts organizations. Furnishing a detailed schedule, Cornish proposes operating the Playhouse “from 9 a.m. to midnight most days from early September to early December and mid-January to early May.”
The Theatre Puget Sound “arts incubator” proposal represents, perhaps, a bigger break with Playhouse management past–Cornish replacing Intiman as the singular primary tenant isn’t structurally that different, except for being a college, instead of a theatre)–but it may be a good break. As TPS makes clear, they are not a producing organization, so their management of the Playhouse can be devoted to its maximal usage.
Their proposal envisions a “24/7″ operation, with events open to the general public “generally be restricted to between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m.” Their rent payment to the Seattle Center would not be a flat-fee, but based upon a split in gross revenue, as is currently the case with their other Seattle Center venues. They argue that they have substantially outperformed the flat-fee rate suggested for those venues, and if that’s true, the Center would of course certainly be the people who would know.
What is most interesting about the TPS proposal is that it addresses a structural issue in the Seattle arts community, which is that there has been nowhere for a successful small or mid-sized theatre to “go” but into debt on venue acquisition–hoping that the location is amenable to their audience, will allow for growth, and won’t become a mortgaged millstone. (Over on Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill Housing is developing an arts center that will be the home of three resident companies: Washington Ensemble Theatre, New Century Theatre, and Strawberry Theatre Workshop.)
A further detail is the prospective stances with regard to the IATSE local that currently provides union labor for the Playhouse’s operations. In either case, an accord would need to be reached concerning non-union labor in the Playhouse, as smaller arts groups would be unable to shoulder that financial burden, and Cornish hopes to use interns extensively as part of work training for its students.