GO Arts: Tacoma Youth Theatre launches first production in new downtown space

Tacoma News TribuneFebruary 18, 2014 

Director Maggie Knott leads the cast of "Peter Pan" at the new Tacoma Youth Theatre space in downtown Tacoma.

ROSEMARY PONNEKANTI — Staff writer

Tacoma’s theater district has a new theater. It’s not big, it looks like a storefront and it still needs some paint. But for Tacoma Youth Theatre, which has just begun its first after-school production in the new space, the location across from the Pantages is perfect.

“We’re super-happy in this location,” said co-founder and director Scott Campbell, as the youth theater’s other director Maggie Knott led a dozen kids through a reading of “Peter Pan.” “It’s good to have a theater in the theater district! And it’s a hub for youth, especially on Saturdays with the youth orchestra everywhere.”

Campbell and Knott, who formed TYT 18 months ago under the Shunpike non-profit umbrella as a theater company specifically for youth, have been working on the new space at 924 Broadway since last August. Previously a deli and thrift shop, the storefront location is part of the Pythian Temple building, and is leased out by the Knights of Pythias. Other tenants include Seabury Middle School. Right across from the Pantages and Theatre on the Square, the downtown location was not only more permanent (TYT used to operate out of First Congregational Church, which was sold last year to Mars Hill Church) but more central, and has much more space.

But it needed a lot of work. Over the last six months Campbell and a crew of volunteers gutted the interior, built a new load-bearing wall to portion off a lobby, repainted and carpeted, installed seating for 88 and lighting and constructed a central black-box theater space with a spacious feel and high ceilings. They also created something unique among Tacoma theaters: padded, LED-lit crawl-tunnels about three feet high which allow the young cast members to get to all stage access points without being seen.

“We wanted to make it fun, like a kid-machine,” explains Campbell.

The space also includes a front lobby, backstage dressing rooms and storage, a wardrobe room, and a large green room with black-painted corner for video shoots.

And it’s popular. TYT has restarted its after-school production-based programs, which run for around six weeks and end in mainstage public performances. They’re well attended, says Campbell, with the pay-what-you-can system working well. Currently, young actors are working on the J.M. Barrie novel adaptation, as well as one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess.” More are planned later in spring, with summer camps to follow and an ongoing preschool program. Campbell is also working on a collaborative partnership with the Seabury School to offer a Shakespeare unit. All the productions see kids aged 5-18 in charge of everything from acting to stage managing to lighting and props, teaching them all aspects of theater.

“We’re trying to teach kids how to take possession of the story,” Campbell explains.

There’s still work to be done in the TYT space: more painting, some ventilation fixing, house lights. Ultimately, Campbell would like to build a stairwell leading from backstage up one floor to the Seabury lobby, something both Seabury and the Pythians would contribute to. The stair would allow two exits from the theater, and increase the occupancy maximum.

Meanwhile, however, the theater is filling a niche in guiding young actors through literature-based drama in a financially accessible way.

“This feels like the right thing to be doing,” says Campbell.

Tacoma Youth Theatre’s next performances are “Peter Pan” on March 21, 22 and 23, and “A Little Princess” on March 28, 29 and 30. For more information see tacomayouththeatre.blogspot.com.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

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