Not far from the Century Olympia cinemas at Capital Mall is another theater: Broadway Olympia Productions’ new black box. The company showed off the improvements to the 2,500-square-foot space at an industry open house last week and plans to begin producing live entertainment there as soon as it’s safe to do so.
The musical theater company began renting the storefront across from Old Navy in August 2018 and used it as rehearsal space, and had planned to begin producing shows there beginning in April 2020 with “21 Chump Street,” a 15-musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the popular public-radio program “This American Life.”
That production, of course, didn’t happen. The pandemic put a stop to theater of all kinds and paused Broadway Olympia’s plans to prepare the space for both its own productions and joint ventures with other theater companies and entertainers.
“I really want this to be a community space that Broadway Olympia has access to when we need it,” said Broadway Olympia managing director Kyle Murphy. “I want to provide a low-cost space for performing artists of all types, whether they are comedians, musicians, singers, dancers, actors, spoken-word artists or whatever.”
“it’s a great space for shows that don’t belong in a bar,” said comedian Sam Miller, who has plans to teach a comedy workshop in the black box and is also thinking about a performance there. “The space is incredibly flexible. So many of the stages we have in Olympia are either at a theater that I can’t afford or at a bar, and bars aren’t always appropriate for everyone. This is an all-ages space.”
Murphy, who’s been paying for the space himself throughout the pandemic, said it wasn’t until a few months ago that he felt ready to get the space ready for what might come next. He’s installed lights and a sound system and has space for up to 120 people — not accounting for physical distancing — in an array of configurations. Once one enters the space, adorned with an art piece designed by Bruce Haasl for the company’s 2018 “The Rocky Horror Show,” the only clue that you’re in the mall is the white dropped ceiling.
“We shut everything when the pandemic hit,” Murphy told OLY ARTS. “For like nine months, it looked like the last time we had rehearsal here. Then I bought tickets to a Broadway show. I bought tickets to ‘Diana,’ and that got me fired up. I got reinvigorated. It was uplifting.”
He’s imagining starting with karaoke and comedy and thinking about timing for “Ageless,” an anthology of six short locally written plays about what would happen if science found a cure for aging. That production, curated by Olympia playwright Bryan Willis, was underway before the pandemic, with scripts completed and directors chosen. That might well be the first Broadway Olympia production in the space since it could be pulled together quickly and rehearsals could happen virtually if need be.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s looking into the possibility of having comedy and family friendly karaoke in the space. The first comedy offering is likely to be Miller’s workshop, which was originally scheduled for March 2020. That multi-week workshop, which might be rescheduled in the next few months, will culminate in a by-invitation-only performance for family and friends of the standups, but the comedian envisions using the space for other projects as well.
Murphy is excited to put the space to use and spread the word that this is a space for the community. He’s also looking forward to getting back to producing shows — including perhaps some original works that could be livestreamed — though he doesn’t expect Broadway Olympia to do a large-scale musical till 2022.
“If we go through a winter, through the cold and flu season, and we don’t have to lock everything down again, at that point, we can say, ‘Let’s look at May or July.’ … To not be rushed, you need a four-month lead time just to let actors know, hold auditions, cast and rehearse.” With small-scale shows in the new black box, he said, “We can be a lot more nimble.”
Broadway Olympia Productions’ Black Box Theater
Inside Capital Mall, 625 Black Lake Blvd., Olympia