The Pantages Theater has lost its full-length “Nutcracker” ballet — a Tacoma tradition for 33 years — and Federal Way has gained it.
The Tacoma City Ballet recently announced it officially has become the resident dance company of the new Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center.
The ballet will move its December “Nutcracker” performances and its spring show to Federal Way in the 2017-18 season, when construction on the center at 316th Street and 20th Avenue South is finished.
The company — which will continue to be known as the Tacoma City Ballet — will perform at the public opening in August.
As for Tacoma, the ballet will present six “Nutcracker” performances next month at the Pantages. In coming years, it will perform a reduced “teaser” version of the famous holiday ballet for one day at the Tacoma theater.
The change of venue for the ballet was welcomed by Federal Way, but represents a loss of a Tacoma icon.
“I feel terrible about ‘Nutcracker’ leaving after 33 years,” said Tacoma City Ballet director Erin Ceragioli. “The Pantages has been the home of Tacoma City Ballet since 1933, and we were invited to bring our ‘Nutcracker’ there.
“But at the same time I’m thrilled about coming to Federal Way.”
The move is a result of financial issues stemming from a 10-day rental limit for the Pantages. The Broadway Center, which manages the theater for the city, imposed the limit last year, and it will take effect for the 2017-18 season.
Ceragioli said the ballet cannot mount “Nutcracker” within that time limit and still earn enough money.
Since 1983, the ballet has operated on a 15-day rental schedule that included two weekends of shows Friday through Sunday, six in all.
Center director David Fischer said the 10-day rental policy was necessary for fairness to all users, particularly in the busy month of December, when every performing arts group wants to do its holiday show.
“We have no desire to see the Tacoma City Ballet leave the Pantages Theater,” he said, adding that the limit was begun to “rebalance Pantages dates for the greatest equity” among the seven resident arts organizations (RAOs) that use the city’s theaters.
“We support the RAOs in so many other and profound ways,” Fischer said, “but managing the precious resource of time in the Pantages is a real constraint, and we all must respect the challenges that brings.”
The 10-day policy
Fischer announced the new policy governing Pantages rentals in May 2015: No group could rent the downtown Tacoma theater for more than 10 consecutive days, effective in fall 2017.
For the ballet, a week of loading in and rehearsals for “Nutcracker,” plus two weekends of performance and what are called “dark days” in between, added up to more than 10 days of use.
The company “cannot load in, rehearse, perform and load out in 10 days and make enough money to pay for the production,” said Ceragioli, who experimented last year with a four-show season to see how costs balanced out.
On average, the six shows the ballet performed in previous years earned the company $190,000. With four shows last year, earnings fell by $30,000.
Fewer shows reduce theater rental costs (up to $990 for a 12-hour performance day) and orchestra payments (about $5,000 per performance.)
But the costs of bringing scenery and equipment in and out — done by the Broadway Center’s union crew — remain one of the biggest expenses and need to be offset by multiple performances, Ceragioli said.
Fischer offered the ballet and the other resident arts organizations that use the Pantages an extension option.
It allowed up to 20 days of rental on one condition: that others could rent the theater during the original renter’s dark days, with both splitting the initial cost of striking and restoring any sets.
Next year, December has five weekends, which are enough for everybody, including the Tacoma Concert Band, which has wanted to do a Pantages holiday show for years but was prevented by the two-week ballet booking.
In 2018, the Pantages will be closed for renovation.
So for 2019, whose dates soon will be negotiated, the Broadway Center proposed a two-week ballet rental that imposed a dark day instead of its first Sunday performance, allowing the concert band to rent that day.
Ceragioli said the option wouldn’t work for the ballet because it would reduce the “Nutcracker” run by one show and potentially add expenses that would be too costly and unpredictable.
“I don’t want to take that risk,” she said.
Moving to Federal Way
The directors of the ballet and the new center welcome the Tacoma group’s decision to become the resident dance company of the Federal Way center.
“I’m very happy to be going to Federal Way,” Ceragioli said. “The stage is bigger, there’s more wing space, the ticket booth is inside the lobby, there’s more storage for the orchestra.
“I think it’ll be very convenient for our audiences, because there’s lots of shopping and restaurants. … And it’s wonderful to be going to a place where we’re wanted. It’s a whole different atmosphere.”
Theresa Yvonne, the new center’s director, called the change exciting.
“Tacoma City Ballet is a great company and will serve the community well,” she said.
Slated to open in late summer 2017, the Federal Way center will be a 41,000-square-foot building with a 700-seat theater. It will share a grand staircase with an adjacent hotel, with views of Mount Rainier. The center has no time limits for rental use.
Currently, the shell is being made secure for winter, and concrete floors, electrical and plumbing are being installed.
In the meantime, the ballet has been renovating its rented space in the Merlino Building in downtown Tacoma, adding stage drapes, lights and audience risers for in-house productions such as the recent “Haunted Theater.”
Ceragioli briefly considered Tacoma’s other big historic theater — the Temple at 47 St. Helens Ave. — as a venue for “Nutcracker.” But despite its size, acoustics and art deco beauty, the Temple needs a lot of modernization, she said.
Two other Broadway Center facilities wouldn’t work either, Ceragioli said. The Rialto has no overhead rigging for sets, and Theater on the Square is too small.
Another venue in the mix is the historic Tacoma Armory at 715 S. 11th St.
On a promise by owner Fred Roberson to give the building to the Broadway Center, the nonprofit is including $1.1 million in a just-announced centennial renovation campaign to improve the armory, buy equipment and subsidize RAO rental during the Pantages closure.
But while groups such as the symphony and concert band are considering it, the building isn’t set up for fully staged ballet or opera.
The ballet will keep its ballet school and in-house performances in the Merlino Building in Tacoma. It will present a one-night “Nutcracker” on Dec. 9, 2017, in the Pantages before taking the full version to Federal Way.