Stageworks Northwest, long known as Longview Stageworks, recently announced plans to convert the old Longview Theatre into a 290-seat venue.
Board president Tim Cusick (pictured, below) said the organization’s goal is to provide the community a comfortable but simple facility capable of producing a great theatre experience. “We are very fortunate the former owners, Ralph and Shelly Siegrist, are willing to work with us,” he said. “The timing is just right.”
The group will launch a capital campaign this summer to raise $1.3 million by the end of 2013, with construction completed the following year. Meanwhile, the company will be presenting limited productions such as theatrical readings, as well as some fundraising activity in the facility as a way of bringing people there. Being used as an indoor skate park did not do much for its appearance, Cusick said, but inspections disclosed the building to be fundamentally very sound.
Stageworks Northwest’s having its own venue will allow better control of its calendar and planning of productions up to three years in advance. Cusick said people often ask: “Why don’t you use the Columbia Theatre or the Lower Columbia College facilities?” There are three issues.
First, he explained, the Columbia Theatre is perfect for the bigger shows, but it is necessary to get in and get out over the course of one week. The pattern for Stageworks has been to build the audience from word of mouth over a month or more. LCC’s educational priorities and needs for a flexible calendar preclude long-term planning by Stageworks. Finally, moving an audience from one facility to another is unpredictable for the audience. “To survive and to thrive, we need a home,” Cusick said.
Stageworks has been part of the local theatre community since the early 1990s. James Murphy, then executive director for Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts, began producing plays in the 90-seat Pepper Studio Theatre, subsequently leading to the establishment of an independent theatre company in 2000. It presented four plays a year until the Pepper Theatre was demolished in 2008 as part of the Columbia Theatre renovation. The conversion of the Longview Theatre will create the small, intimate venue that is such an important part of the theatrical experience.
Stageworks began as a semi-professional theatre, bringing key actors and directors from outside the local community. However, the economics have changed and the local talent base has grown.
“Today,” Cusick said, “we are refocused, which means programming goals including Center Stage (LCC’s drama program) type productions, The C.A.S.T. (a children’s after-school theatre serving the middle schools of Kelso-Longview) and, in the future, educational workshops to strengthen the infrastructure. “As audiences are exposed to more theatre,” Cusick noted, “they ultimately demand higher quality.”
Longview is an extraordinary community and its downtown, like other downtowns across the country, is remaking itself to meet the future. “Underpinned by the great bones of downtown Longview,” Cusick said, “the theatre arts have the capacity to make a fantastic contribution to our community.”