A 33-year old Tacoma tradition is packing up its land of sweets and moving north for its 2017-18 season.
The Tacoma City Ballet’s full length “Nutcracker” will make its final bow this season in the Pantages Theater. It promises to come back for one “teaser” performance in future years, but if you want to see it in all its splendor, you’ll have to trek to the new Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center.
The TCB exodus is a done deal, at least for a couple years. It might have caught some by surprise, but forensics on the back-and-forth dealings between the ballet company and the theater manager, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, reveal a relationship that’s been contentious for a while.
When Broadway Center director David Fischer last year announced a policy capping rental of the Pantages to 10 days, the traditional run of the TCB’s “Nutcracker” was doomed. To be cost effective, the production needs two weekends, or a 15-day rental, to set up, rehearse and do six performances.
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Fischer said his ten-day policy was drafted out of consideration for all seven resident arts organizations that share the Pantages and Broadway Center’s three other venues during the busy holiday season. He also must allow for professional money-making road shows that may come knocking.
The ballet company alone was affected by the change. (The Tacoma Opera will require a one-time extension for its 50th anniversary production in 2018.)
TCB director Erin Ceragioli balked at the usage restriction, so Fischer offered an amendment that would allow up to 20 days rental. It included a caveat: If another group wanted to rent the space on the “Nutcracker” dark days, TCB would have to pay half the cost to clear out the theater. It also would mean one fewer performance date in the 2019 season.
Renting out a theater during dark days is common practice in many theaters, and it’s a way for the nonprofit Broadway Center to fill its calendar with diverse performances.
Ceragioli found the offer unacceptable. In the end she said she’s very happy to be moving to Federal Way’s state-of-the-art theater, despite the risk some ballet lovers may keep driving past Federal Way, spend a little more cash and see the fabled Pacific Northwest Ballet “Nutcracker” production in Seattle instead.
It’s too bad Broadway Center could not keep this jewel in our back yard. At least TCB will remain a vibrant part of the local art scene with its ballet school, soon-to-be-renovated space and other shows in the Merlino building — all while keeping “Tacoma” intact in the company’s name.
The company deserves local support; so does Broadway Center during its upcoming $24.5 million capital campaign.
The sting of the Nutcracker exiting stage left is reminiscent of other cultural losses in the city, like the 2007 demise of Tacoma Actors’ Guild, the region’s only professional resident repertory theater, and the 2010 departure of Wintergrass, the world-renowned bluegrass festival.
Tacoma should understand the simple math that a strong art scene equals a strong economy. If you dance it, paint it, sing it or perform it, potential businesses are more apt to put down stakes. Strip malls and stuff marts don’t attract businesses; sugar plum fairies do.
Though compromise is sometimes the hardest nut to crack, we’d like to believe this impasse will be resolved once the 2018 renovations at the Pantages are completed.
Perhaps before the new decade dawns, both Broadway Center and TCB will lay their differences aside and return this holiday entree to the cultural banquet table.