Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Erickson is a Community Asset - Why is it empty of theater?

For unknown reasons, I can't reply to comments. A lot of people are talking about this topic but will not publicly comment. I think there are problems. I think the SC administration has some reasons, though it's hard to determine exactly who is making decisions so that a direct conversation or negotiation can take place. It is my hope that by beginning a more public conversation, people can get involved and change can become possible.

The Ethnic Cultural Center is UW's facility, but I have seen plays and readings there, so I know it is possible to rent (though not for how much). I perceive that the Erickson is in a different situation, and in an area where people are begging for locations to mount their productions.
Space to perform in Seattle is at a premium already and seems to be getting worse. While there is are two new spaces being built (one for Theater Schmeater that is an example of what I see as the future avenue we must find a way to advocate for with new development, and the 12th Avenue Arts building), each of those spaces will not actually enlarge the pool of available spaces for rentals in any meaningful way. (I am not going to lay out my rationale for that statement here.)

Rentals, theater spaces where people can rent space for performance purposes, are few and full, and vary in their ability to house the requirements of productions. Some of them are uncomfortable to sit in as audience members, and most of them are simply too small for any but productions with four or five people and a single set, maximum.

Most of those spaces are also not meant to be theater spaces and never were built to accommodate a theatrical production. Balagan Theatre started life as a "homed" company by renting a basement! Theater Schmeater lived in a basement for 20 years!

There are several dozen theater companies that do not have a permanent theatrical home and many either can't handle the additional complications and expenses, or don't want to. Some companies want to produce only one play a year; some groups have one play in mind, at all, and may not want to produce any other play.

There has been a space available for renting that has essentially been taken off the market. The reason for that is unclear. Seattle Central (now not Community) College has control of a theater called The Erickson. It was for use primarily by their drama classes, but the administration of the Seattle College trio of schools has systematically, recently, demolished almost every theater class they offer, and let go of all the theater faculty.

I'm told that now the administration thinks that the Erickson should be housing accounting classes. Certainly, they are not renting it to theatrical companies at this time. However, it is not just a misuse of a theater, it's inappropriate to house an accounting class in there.

This is a community-built facility owned by a publicly funded organization and the theater was created, at great expense, and the promise was that it would benefit the community is was constructed in. It was never conceived of as only an SCCC-used facility. So why is the administration restricting its use?

It's not a classroom that was converted, like a basement, into a theater space, it is an actual theater space with height, wing space, back stage space, adequate raked seating, and a lobby and box office area. To take this asset away from the community and put accounting students in it is to debase the reason for the space in the first place.

We cannot sit still and allow this take-away to happen without comment or push-back. It is essentially "our" space and not theirs to determine without input or consent of the public which contributed to its construction.

I don't know how to mount a protest or even exactly to whom, but someone else probably does and can help. I do think it must be done, or Seattle Colleges will continue to make decisions without regard to the rest of the community and a valuable theater resource will become who knows what.

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