Midway through its 40th season, Burien Actors Theatre received an unpleasant surprise: the city was shuttering its building and, in a matter of weeks, its tenants would have to move on. The theatre is asking its fans to step in.
Burien is bustling, but if you’re looking to see live performance your options are limited. There’s the Highline Performing Arts Center, an enormous auditorium run by the school board that rents to occasional (massive) shows coming through town; and there’s Burien Actors Theatre (BAT), a homegrown self-producing theatre company that puts on shows year-round. Suffice it to say, the two have vastly different feels.
(Note: the Highline PAC is also surrounded by extensive construction, and it’s unclear if it’s actually putting on shows. Its website lists a show from September as its current run.)
This year, BAT produced a local playwrights festival, with full productions of two new short works and two full-length ones; held a series of parks performances of The Importance of Being Earnest; partnered with the Vashon-based UMO Ensemble for a weekend of performances in Burien; and held three full-length runs. With connections to the area’s business community — selling local chocolates and pumping nearby restaurants from its stage-pulpit, for example — BAT has firmly planted itself in the local community. It also relocated and reopened its extensive lending library of bound scripts and theatre-related books (called Burien Actors Lending Library … “BALL,” naturally) at Phoenix Tea Shop in downtown Burien, with a ceremony on November 9.
Just a month later, the landscape is changing fast. This week the theatre was met with an unwelcome surprise from the City of Burien. Citing structural concerns, the city told BAT and the complex’s other six tenants — all nonprofit organizations — they need to leave by the end of January.
How urgent those issues actually are isn’t exactly clear. On a page dedicated to the closure on its website, the city declares that the Burien annex “presents no immediate health, life, and safety danger.” Meanwhile, the FAQs on that very same page indicate it’s “giving the organizations as much time as possible based on the assessed safety of the building,” given that “the building’s systems were failing so badly and could potentially put staff and participants in these organizations in harm’s way.”
And that timeline is key. Not surprisingly, the organizations fear for their futures they’re forced to move so quickly. Return customers are never a given after a move. And the types of organizations housed in the complex — BAT, another theatre group (the Hi-Liners), and Meals on Wheels, for example — aren’t the types that can easily find replacement homes.
For its part, BAT is asking the city to, at a minimum, give them more time. The theatre is mid-season, has subscribers who have already committed to a full season, and was already in a planned campaign to come up with the royalties for a big-ticket production — The Rocky Horror Show, slated for February — which the company expected would be held at its long-time home theatre.
With an unclear future, BAT finds itself asking for more help, in different forms, this season.
How You Can Help
Write. BAT asks those who value what it brings to the community to write in to the Burien City Council and let them know. See info here.
Show Up. There’s a meeting of the Burien City Council this Monday night, and BAT invites supporters to attend and speak if you can; info here. The Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce will also hold a roundtable discussion about the closure on Monday afternoon; see info here.
Visit. In what might be BAT’s last run ever in its current home, its modern holiday tale The Christmas Spirit runs through next Sunday. (Even absent this news, NWT has been impressed with BAT’s work and recommends checking it out anyway. See recommendations here, and find info and tickets here.)
Sleuth. Know a great theatre space in the area, or another southend city that’s looking for a theatre company? BAT’s looking for tips as it plans for the future. Let them know about it.
Donate. You can help fund BAT’s sustainability by supporting the rest of its season, which it has said will go on, whether in its current space or not. You can donate to the theatre here. For BAT and other organizations, the Seattle Southside Chamber has also put up a GoFundMe page, here.
Here’s hoping things work out. BAT’s a great fit in the theatre community and its southend home.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.