It'll be the end of an era June 1, when Artists Repertory Theatre officially moves out of its longtime home at 1515 S.W. Morrison St. It's not an age-old era, but plenty of great works have taken place on stages at Artists Rep, and its ArtsHub gave new life to many smaller companies. It's a big change for an integral part of Portland's entertainment scene.
Half of the block has already been sold, with an apartment building in the plans for the space. On the other half, the building will be renovated for Artists Repertory Theatre and ArtsHub, and hopefully it'll be two or three years before plays return to the shiny new theaters in downtown Portland.
In the meantime, Artists Rep and 10 of the 12 ArtsHub companies will take up residence at a vacant, 10,000-square-foot office space at Zidell Yards in South Waterfront, and plays in the next couple seasons will be held at other venues, including The Armory, home of the city's other large company, Portland Center Stage.
"We're calling it 'ART On Tour,'" says J.S. May, the Artists Rep managing director.
Lauren Gunderson's "The Revolutionists," staging through May 26, will be the last play in the Southwest Morrison Street building.
The building must be vacated on June 1, when the sale closes for half the block to the Wood Partners, a development firm from Atlanta that plans for a 22-story, 304-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail — it's going to be called, appropriately, The Art Building, May says. Artists Rep's building will essentially be halved, with the Alder Street Stage being in the sold part. Construction will entail moving sewer, gas and water utilities, forcing Artists Rep out of its half of the property.
The remaining part of the Artists Rep building will be patched up, and it'll lose sheer strength because of half of it is gone.
For its part, Artists Rep is merely in the design process with Lever Architecture of Portland and contractor Howard S. Wright, and the consulting theater design company is Fisher Dachs from New York City.
May says construction costs will be about $13 million, total project costs about $20 million and expected project value to be about $30 million. Sale of part of its property and a $10 million capital campaign will be large contributors to the remodeling cost.
It was time for change, because of the age of the Southwest Morrison Street building, and it was the right time to change, given Artists Rep's better financial situation. May, who worked 11 years at the Portland Art Museum as chief advancement officer, helped Artists Rep maneuver itself out of $5 million in debt, which included mortgage and operation debt and an IRS lien for unpaid payroll taxes. The picture brightened after an anonymous donation of $7.1 million and, later, an additional $500,000 donation.
The $7.1 million donation "was an extraordinary gift," May says. "It enabled this process. This is a $30 million project from ground zero. And we're going to get a brand new building for about $10 million in (raised) money ... Between the sale and the gift (and existing property), there's already close to $20 million into this future vision."
One of the biggest secrets in the city is who or which group or foundation donated $7.1 million. And the ensuing $500,000 was nothing to take for granted.
"It came because of Artists Repertory Theatre and the quality of works we do, and because of the ArtsHub," May says. "It's not just about us, it's about the arts ecosystem in a city where there is not enough performing space or artists space, that we have consistently been there."
Among the companies to take up residence at Artists Rep over the years are Profile Theatre, Portland Actors Conservatory and Hand2Mouth Theatre.
The building was built in the 1940s by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks as a health club, and it included a bowling alley, ballroom and swimming pool. Late in its life, problems started accruing: There's no elevator between the Alder and Morrison levels; the roof leaks; there isn't heat in half the building; theater seats came from a movie theater; when it rains, the noise often can be heard during a play.
"This building is old and tired," May says. "We're going to keep the north half of the building and reinvigorate it."
Along with new offices and rehearsal and dressing spaces, there'll be two theaters in the remodeled building, with seating increased, and everything will be updated to current standards.
In the meantime, Artists Rep and Artistic Director Damaso Rodriguez will be operating out of South Waterfront and putting on six shows at Imago Theatre, Portland Opera's Hampton Center, the Tiffany Center, The Armory (two shows) and Lincoln Performance Hall. ArtsHub members have also had to make other venue arrangements.
May preaches patience for everybody, that the "rejuvenation is the next logical step."
So, "The Revolutionists," about four strong women wielding influence during the French Revolution, will be the last play on the Morrison Stage. (The Alder Stage has already been retired.) It closes May 26.
"I get to send this building off into the future, symbolically, because there are a lot of guillotines in the show," jokes Director Lava Alapai. "The opportunity now is Artists Repertory Theatre gets to work with other theaters in the community and it becomes a tighter relationship. It's always been a small and tight (relationship); it's a great example of how we're going to take care of each other."
Says May: "We felt ('Art on Tour') could be an opportunity for us to form new partnerships, do innovative things we wouldn't do otherwise, reach a new audience and affirm our mission. One of the great partnerships to come out of this is Portland Center Stage stepping in to help us. We're doing a co-production, and renting their stages and sharing their scene shop, which allows us to produce sets for ArtsHub companies and others throughout the city. We're even putting in a box office at The Armory. That's an incredibly valuable thing. … It's an ecosystem. All this makes for better theater if we're all vibrant."
May expects fundraising to go well.
"People are not stepping into something that 'might happen,'" he says, "it's going to happen."
Strong women are featured in Artists Repertory Theatre's season finale, the witty, inspiring and funny "The Revolutionists" — the final show at Artists Rep's Southwest Morrison Street theater, May 3-26.
It's written by the award-winning Lauren Gunderson and directed by Lava Alapai, and it focuses on women's roles in the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.
"Where is the line between passively participating in a revolution and stepping into an actual participation stance?" says Alapai, a longtime Artists Rep actor who directed last year's "An Octoroon" at Artists Rep.
Three characters are real-life women: Olympe De Gouges (played by Jamie M. Rea), the playwright; Charlotte Corday (Joellen Sweeney), the assassin; and Marie Antoinette (Amy Newman), the former queen. Marianne Angelle is a fictional character, a Caribbean spy, played by Ayanna Berkshire.
The synopsis: In 1793, during France's Reign of Terror, a playwright, an assassin, a former queen and a Caribbean spy attempt to save the soul of France while avoiding the edge of the guillotine's blade. Olympe is desperate to pen the perfect piece of revolutionary art for her generation, while Charlotte is determined to become an assassin. Prophetic Marie is happy to reminisce about her time in the palace while Marianne gathers intelligence to send home to the Caribbean.
"We want to see women represented in the play that, when faced with their mortality, could find friendship and strength to fight for the rights of everyone," Alapai adds.
For more, see www.artistsrep.org.
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