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Brighter lights

Ppgrades come to Tacoma Musical Playhouse

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I have written a lot over the years about how staging good shows is only a fraction of what goes into the operation of a theatrical venue. Some would argue it probably isn’t even the most important. I know of at least a handful of theaters that have staged strong works only to close their doors because the financial success just didn’t follow the artistic one. Theaters have to pay utility bills too.

So it’s always nice to see theaters that have reached enough artistic success to gather a strong enough following to not only cover their expenses but also pull ahead in the numbers game that is the financial struggle of operating a theater.

Such is the case with Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It not only bought the block that houses the Narrows Theater, where it stages its shows, but now just a few years after that purchase, it has set out on a roster of renovations to take the theater to the next level of success.

Built as a movie theater in 1948, the Narrows Theater is one of Tacoma’s oldest theaters. Tacoma Musical Playhouse occupied the building in 1996. The theater bought the space and the entire Narrows Shopping Center it anchors in 2002 from the Pecchia family, who had built it.

By the time the theater opens for the fall show of “Damn Yankees,” the theater lobby will have a whole new look. Gone will be the cramped foyer, closet-sized ticket booth and cornered concession stand.

Gone will be the lines snaking through the lobby to get to the restrooms during intermission. The theater is getting four times as many stalls.

Actors also will see an upgrade with larger dressing rooms and an official green room for thespians waiting in the wings.

The theater is going classic in its design with an art deco look that will make the theater look, well, like a theater.

The changes aren’t just for show. TMP not only houses the largest base of season subscribers in the region — 2,400 — but its Tacoma Children’s Theater operations are adding to the theater’s calendar. 

“All in all, TMP will add 3,600 square feet for Phase 1 of this project,” says Managing Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake. “Patron comforts are our first priority. We anticipate a second and third phase of construction that will address the technical insufficiencies of our theater.”

Grants from State of Washington Building for the Arts, city of Tacoma and Pierce County as well as donations from ticket holders and board members will cover the initial renovation push without the need for a full-fledged capital campaign. That could come later.

I tell you this story as a way of updating you about another theater in renovation mode. Horatio Theater finished its first season with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” earlier this summer and is not as far along as everyone had hoped.

The space on Opera Alley that was set to be its home remains largely vacant as the theater stages works in theater spaces around town like some vagabond theater troupe. Apparently permitting and renovation issues have proven more problematic than first thought.

The theater doesn’t have a formal schedule of works for next season. Founder Erik Hanberg said the theater is going one show at a time. For a self-described “actor’s theater” seeking to stage works other theaters shy away from, Horatio is finding out that an actor’s life is just as challenging as it is colorful.

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