Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Schmee Rises! New space, new lease on life!

The Schmee: Some months ago (photo Dave Hastings)

Revered theater, Theater Schmeater, lived in a basement under Brocklind’s Costumes from 1992 until last year. Brocklind was a benevolent upstairs neighbor and was closed at night and on weekends, so that partnership worked for many years, despite support columns in the middle of stage space, lack of ceiling height, concrete sound-bounce, and lack of adequate heating and cooling.

The Schmee made it as cozy as possible, adding a unique lobby area, a bar, and smart technical people who overcame much of the challenge of staging in that space. It was similar to other Capitol Hill locations that grew around available empty spaces, many underground. But that all changed when Brocklind’s closed and the building was sold.

Roger Huston, managing director since August 2012, continues the narrative, “The new owners, Hunters Capital, entered into an agreement for a restaurant to occupy the first floor. It would not be practical to install sound insulation under the already-low basement ceiling (in a 100 year old, uninsulated building) and would no longer be practical to use the basement for theater.”

Unhappy with the obvious choice to shutter operations, the company went on a massive search for a new home that would fit a very conservative small theater budget. Roger says, “There were few spaces available in the city that would be suitable for conversion to theatrical use. The cost of most of them would have made it impractical for Theater Schmeater to continue to operate as an intimate venue with affordable ticket prices.”

Eureka! A unique solution was found in a relatively newly built (2008) building in Belltown. There was an empty storefront that had never been built out. Roger says, “It was an empty shell, but it had possibilities. Plymouth Housing Group, itself a non-profit, offered rent that was below market price. Theater Schmeater signed a lease on that space in November 2013.”

With Kickstarter funding, a family-and-friends arm-twisting, and direct mail campaign, work began to construct a theatrical space in this two story structure. Roger says, “Design and preparation of architectural plans were provided by local designer Maureen Caruso, working pro bono. Structural Engineer Eli Grassley, PE, also provided his expertise at no cost. Steelhead Residential Construction worked with Theater Schmeater to help design an approach to construction that would keep the construction costs manageable. Much ‘finish’ work was left for Theater Schmeater volunteers to do.”

Construction started in February and in just a few days, their new space will inaugurate a two-weekend long shorts program they are calling, “Gala Schmala.” Their press release describes the shorts: “Man Make Story by Keiko Green explores the hurtles of the first (cave) man explaining the concept of his newly invented activity, writing a story, to his doubting, pragmatic wife.  In Ben McFadden’s The Tipping Point a young actor confronts the implications of his chosen career. Stranger in a Familiar Land by Miranda Holtmann explores the seeming dependence of the modern mainstream theater on familiar popular culture for its inspiration. Courtney Meaker reaches back into a rich theater history to find a “new” heroine in her duet Séance. And in The Ghost of Theater Past Elena Hartwell exposes the often contradictory choices foisted on a well-meaning but slightly befuddled artistic director.”

June 5-June 14, tickets are available online at or by phone at 1-800-838-3006. Thursdays are pay-what-you-can at the door for same day tickets. (Theater Schmeater has maintained pay-what-you-can Thursdays for years, now!) The Schmee is located at 2125 Third Ave, between Blanchard and Lenora in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. For more information, the website is

Roger adds, “The new venue will be known as The Schmee. The name of the theater company will remain Theater Schmeater, performing at The Schmee. The Schmee includes a rehearsal space separate from the theater, a luxury the company did not have in its basement space. This will allow rental of the rehearsal space or the performance space by other theater companies. Two such rentals are scheduled for the first year of operation.”

Not only will the Schmee survive, it is now adding to available rehearsal locations, a desperately needed addition to the theatrical infrastructure in and around the Downtown/Capitol Hill core. So, long live The Schmee!

But, the fact is that their find is a somewhat unexpected and uniquely miraculous event. The lack of space and rising rents continue to spell potential disaster to up-and-coming performance venues. In the next few weeks, I will be talking to people who met recently to discuss and create a Capitol Hill Arts District, and other possibilities for future space growth. Stay tuned for more.

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