Olympia Family Theater set to relocate to former home of Capital Playhouse

Company will take over space of former Capital Playhouse on Sept. 1

Contributing writerMay 30, 2014 

The building that hosted the Capital Playhouse will be the new home of the Olympia Family Theater.

STEVE BLOOM STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

There’s no place like home, and Olympia Family Theater has found a new one: the former Capital Playhouse.

The theater company will move into the space on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia on Sept. 1 and open its first show there, “Busytown,” on Sept. 26.

“It’s fun to look back at our early board retreats,” OFT artistic director Jen Ryle said. “We had visioning sessions for where we saw the theater in five or 10 years, and it always was a part of the vision to someday have everything housed in one place.

“It will be our ninth season, and so we hit the mark. Within 10 years, we will have landed in our own home.”

The theater’s board approved the move Wednesday evening, but it’s been in the works — and in Ryle’s dreams — for a while.

“Obviously, Capital Playhouse has been having trouble for some time,” Ryle said Thursday. “It was in the back of our minds all that time that if they didn’t make it, that space might become available.

“When it didn’t work out, which I think was really sad, we called the owner of the building right away.”

OFT will vacate its current small headquarters on State Avenue at the end of August. The theater company has been performing its plays at the Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, but building and painting sets elsewhere.

Meanwhile, OFT co-founder and managing director Samantha Chandler is stepping down next month. Alexis Sarah is taking over the business side as operations and marketing manager.

“It’s a lot of transitions all at once,” Chandler said. “I will definitely continue to be involved as a consultant and volunteer.”

While next season will feature five shows, the same as in previous seasons, the move opens up possibilities for OFT’s future.

“We have a plan for adding shows and programs that will fill out our season and offer more to the kids and families of Olympia,” Ryle said. “We’ll be able to do so much more with our own home and everything under one roof.”

The theater company doesn’t need to rush to expand, because its expenses will be lower next year, Ryle said. The five-year lease for the former playhouse, at 612 E. Fourth Ave., is tiered, and next season will cost less than rents for the Black Box at The Washington Center.

The company has also been using a lot of resources moving sets, which are built in the garage of carpenter David Nowitz, painted in space at Ballet Northwest, moved to the Washington Center for performances, and then broken down and put into storage.

“It’s amazing how much of OFT’s time is spent getting stuff ready to move and moving it and setting it up,” said Jill Carter, the company’s resident designer. “If OFT can instead expend its energy on creative things, it will be pretty amazing.”

While there is a lot to setting up and maintaining a theater — and the playhouse space needs significant work this summer, from roof repairs and insulation to work on the lighting grid — the rewards are well worth it, Carter said.

She was a designer with Harlequin Productions when that company moved into the State Theater in 1997. Previously, Harlequin too had presented shows at the Washington Center.

“When it was in the Black Box, Harlequin had a crew of 10 or so people who were always working on shows,” Carter said. “As soon as they had a home, it really grew to 30-50 people who wanted to be a part of the company. I’m really looking forward to that shift happening with Olympia Family Theater.

“There’s something about having a home,” she added.

The company’s next season will celebrate with the theme “A Sense of Place,” beginning with “Busytown,” based on Richard Scarry’s children’s books.

“I envision the set being exactly like the books, only using our local businesses’ names on the bookstore and the bakery and the other businesses so it can be our very own Busytown,” Ryle said.

While Olympia Family Theater is celebrating its growth, Capital Playhouse, the organization, is still plugging along. It has no staff and no home, but it has a board that is still hard at work, mostly focused on settling its finances.

“The space is closed, but the playhouse itself has not been dissolved,” said board president Marcia Tunheim. “We’re still in the process of working out a settlement with the IRS. We’re focusing on trying to do what we can to get rid of the debt.”

Asked if the playhouse could someday produce shows again, Tunheim said: “I think it’s too early to tell. Anything in the future is in the future.”

When the playhouse auctioned off its belongings in March, Olympia Family Theater bought the lights, and building owner Steve Cooper bought the seats and platforms.

Tunheim offered OFT some auction leftovers, and the two organizations have been communicating and cooperating along the way.

“I’m happy that the space can be used,” Tunheim said.

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