It’s curtains for theater after only three shows

EDMONDS — In the theater world, the show must go on.

Except when the fire marshal steps in.

The new Edmonds Repertory Theatre, which launched its first production on Oct. 5, was able to perform just three shows before being shut down by the Edmonds fire marshal for performing in a place not rated for theater.

In fact, the only way the fledging theater company was allowed to do its last performance on Oct. 12 — the show was supposed to run through Oct. 27 — was by paying to have a firefighter sit through the show and cutting the sold-out house of 50 down to 33 people.

The news that Edmonds Repertory Theatre would have to shut down came as a shock to its managing director, Jeff Stilwell, who made the announcement Wednesday on the theater’s Web site.

With a hint of sadness in his voice but still trying to remain positive, Stilwell said he was at least proud to say he didn’t owe anybody money.

“To mount a show is a big thing. It takes two months of prep, and before opening you are investing a lot of money,” Stilwell said. “This was such an efficient show that while we were not paying anybody, it would have been nice to be paid something, but we’re not getting squat.

“Nevertheless we are finishing in the black, slightly, which is so much nicer than being several thousand dollars in debt.”

The ruling caught himself, artistic director David Bailey and technical director Ryan Quimby “all breathless, as if we had just been struck by a meteor.”

The plot of this story began years ago when Stilwell and others got the idea to start Edmonds Repertory Theatre to allow new playwrights a place to show off their work. The goal was to perform only new two-act plays in an intimate, theater-in-the-round setting.

After getting sponsors and more than 100 members, Edmonds Rep approached Artworks to use its space at 210 Second Ave. S. Artworks is a group that makes visual art accessible to the public.

The building it uses is owned by the city of Edmonds. It is distinct in that it has two huge bay doors. Inside, Artworks has done extensive upgrading: It added a firewall, upgraded the bathrooms and added a fire exit. Artworks also had an occupancy permit of 50 people, said Ann Wood, head of the steering committee for Artworks.

Artworks’ building seemed a good fit for Edmonds Rep. A contract was signed in August. Edmonds Rep built its own portable stage and moved it into Artworks. The theater company announced its first show would be Stilwell’s new comedy, “A Warp-ed Door,” Stilwell said.

On Oct. 10, Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson told Stilwell that he had spoken with fire officials who told him that Edmonds Rep would have to shut down.

The way Stilwell explained it, the Artworks building is rated for public assemblies, but it doesn’t have an “A1” rating, the most stringent rating, which is required for theater productions.

It was unclear how the fire department learned that Artworks didn’t have the adequate rating. Fire Marshal John Westfall did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

Artworks cannot afford to upgrade its building to accommodate Edmonds Rep, Woods said. The group has helped Stilwell by charging him half the cost of rent and paying for the firefighter who stood watch Oct. 12, she said.

“It’s unfortunate that Artworks was not a venue that lends itself to that type of use,” Wood said. “It never occurred to us that it wouldn’t fit into our occupancy requirements. We never even thought of that.”

“We want to please the city and we were trying to help Jeff find a spot,” Wood said. “We’re all disappointed, but we don’t blame the city.”

Stilwell is trying to move past his disappointment and look for a new home. His goal is to have the theater dark for just a short time and hopes to open another production by February.

Stilwell already has a beginning and a middle to his latest work, a comedy called “Do ­Buddhists Drink Beer?”

He vows that the show will indeed go on.

Reporter Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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