New theater fills a needed space

  • Sarah Koenig<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:59am

It’s the common plight of a former drama major: You have talent, you want to act/produce/stage manage, you’re holding down a day job and the theater scene in the nearby big city is impenetrable.

What do you do? Well, if you’re driven enough, you start your own theater.

That’s what a handful of Shoreline Community College alumni, current students and drama professors did last year when they founded the New Space theater in Shoreline.

Tony Doupe, college drama professor, and Chris Fisher, head of the drama department, are two of those founders.

Doupe has seen graduates return to the college year after year and pay to take drama classes so they could keep acting.

“My roommate Russ Coffey came back for seven years,” said student Nick Hagen, a founding member.

The New Space gives people a chance to do what they love, Doupe said.

“It’s like playing sports — even when you’re not paid, you still want to participate, (to) get that satisfied for the day,” he said. “It’s in you and you can’t get rid of it.”

It’s tough to break into the theater scene in Seattle, Doupe said, and what pays — like advertisements — is not always fulfilling. Even artists who do get work struggle to support themselves with it, Doupe said.

He’s done his fair share of commercials. Recently he appeared in an anti-smoking advertisement where he talks to a turkey in the freezer.

But he’s also had high-profile movie and television roles, appearing in “The Ring,” “The Fugitive,” “Northern Exposure” and “Life or Something Like It.”

Those involved in the New Space theater do more than act. They run the theater, doing everything from fundraising to grant writing, carpentry to communications. They also design sets, direct, stage manage, operate audio and lighting systems, and more.

And they almost all have day jobs.

Hagen sells appliances at Sears. Others bar tend, film Shoreline City Council meetings or work in construction.

They give their time at the New Space for free to improve their craft, said Doupe.

“Everyone who comes is passionate about the work,” said Melissa Leland, student, stage manager and founding member. “There’s no dull moment in rehearsal.”

Right now, the theater’s rent is paid by dues from the six founding members. The actors pay nothing, and tickets for audience members are $8 to $10.

The hope is that eventually ticket sales will pay the bills.

New Space doesn’t have the financial problems of theaters in Seattle because the goal is not to make money, Doupe said.

Still, one of the biggest challenges is limited resources, he said. The founding members can put in 14- hour days when things get busy.

Also, the theater is located off of a busy street, so patrons can hear sirens and traffic noise outside.

That just means you choose plays in an urban setting, rather than classical theater, Doupe said. The upcoming “Zoo Story” is set in Central Park in New York City, for example.

The theater also has hosted comedy nights and poetry and short-story readings, in addition to plays.

It’s seeking ideas from the community on how else the space could be used. It doesn’t limit itself to Shoreline Community College graduates.

The theater also is trying to attract local audiences, hence the low ticket prices.

“We’re trying to make it as affordable as possible,” Doupe said. “My philosophy is that every neighborhood should have a bookstore, a coffee shop, a pub and a theater.”

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