Seattle theatregoers have lost a longtime venue, the Bathhouse Theatre, which ceased operations as of Feb. 1.
According to business manager Emily Hamilton, "The board had a series of meetings the last two weeks of January, where they voted to suspend operations. We were doing The Belle of Amherst; Jan. 31 was the last performance of that."
Continued Hamilton, "The company has filed for bankruptcy. The board was very reluctant to take this step, but we'd been struggling with a cash flow problem for a year and a half, and especially for the past six months. There was an overwhelming burden of debt that was crushing us: a quarter of a million dollars."
The theatre building itself is rented from the City of Seattle. No plans have yet been announced for use of the venue.
Seattle Repertory Theatre is offering Bathhouse subscribers complimentary tickets to the last week of its mounting of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Feb. 23-28. Empty Space, A.C.T., Civic Light Opera and Taproot Theatre have also struck deals to compensate ticket holders with replacement shows. Seattle Rep managing director Ben Moore said in a statement, "We at Seattle Rep are deeply sorry to learn of the Bathhouse Theatre's decision to cease operation. Offering this accommodation to their loyal subscribers is the least that we can do to help ease the pain over the loss of a long respected peer organization."
According to sources, the theatre was, indeed, a converted bathhouse sitting on Green Lake Way, on the side of a lake in North Seattle. Founded in 1970, the company helped launch the second wave of theatre in Seattle, soon joined by the Empty Space and Intiman (both still running).
The Bathhouse was started as a community-based ensemble, later graduating to partial Equity casting. Shakespearean productions included a well-received, 1950s musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Artistic director Arne Zaslove told writer Jeffrey Eric Jenkins (in a May 1996 Back Stage article), "We've developed an ensemble dedicated to contemporary interpretations of classical theatre. We're not really interested in two or three-person character dramas, but we do try to provide a varied menu." Zaslove is also one of the founders of Seattle's Professional Actor Training Program.
Several reasons were given by sources for the Bathhouse's demise. Jenkins told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 8), "There are two million people in the Puget Sound region, but only a half-million in Seattle proper. What happens is, the audience pie gets sliced thinner and thinner, until there's nothing left to share." The highly acclaimed gay and lesbian Alice B. Theatre was another Seattle theatre casualty earlier in the decade.
Other informed sources seconded that opinion, noting that there's heavy competition for audiences due to a glut of theatres in Seattle. Major musicals and touring companies have also siphoned off audiences, as have the rise of the area's sports teams. Artistically, sources also note that the Bathhouse company couldn't always rise to the level of its intentions. As one source put it, "Arne [Zaslove] had an expertise on masks and commedia dell' arte. But he sometimes didn't have the trained personnel to do that kind of specialized theatre effectively."
A Jan. 30 press release from the theatre "thanks Arne Zaslove for his artistic leadership" and expresses its gratitude to "our dedicated staff and performers for their support and commitment."
-- By David Lefkowitz