Saturday, December 30, 2006

Horatio’s black box stage could be a bright spot

Over a cup of coffee at Tullys on Broadway, Erik Hanberg convinced me that Tacoma is ripe for a theater the likes of The Horatio -- Hanberg’s new theater.

I hope Tacomans will prove him right. Some say the only kind of theater Tacoma will support is Sondheim and Agatha Christie. If that’s true, The Horatio doesn’t stand a chance. On the other hand, it may be there’s a huge audience awaiting the kind of edgy, grown-up theater Hanberg plans to bring to town.

“A lot of good plays never make it to this area,” Hanberg said. “Only five Pulitzer or Tony Award winners since 1995 have made it to this area.”

He laughed at that, catching himself in an obvious contradiction. After all, truly edgy theater never wins establishment prizes such as the Pulitzer. So perhaps when he speaks of fringe theater he is not so much thinking of cutting edge or experimental as simply going beyond tried and true crowd pleasers to plays that might challenge an educated audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean weird or far out. One play he mentioned, for example, was “Proof” -- a winner of both the afore-mentioned awards, which is very accessible despite being a play about a math genius.

Hanberg said he wants to stage plays that are “exciting, intimate, daring, relevant, funny, and maybe occasionally profound.”

More specifically, on The Horatio Theater Web site Hanberg says they intend to produce “high-quality plays not produced in the South Sound, plays that only professional theater groups can stage because they're a little racy, or have some bad language, or take firm stands on controversial social issues.”

It might be pointed out that theaters in Olympia have proven that South Sound audiences will support theater of that quality. Olympia Little Theater had a successful run of “Proof” last year, and this year they plan to run the highly controversial “Take Me Out” (albeit with most of the nudity hidden behind screens). And I can’t imagine anything more edgy than last year’s “Frozen” at Harlequin Productions. If Olympia can do it, there’s no reason the more metropolitan Tacoma can’t.

Before we sat down for coffee, Hanberg gave me a tour of The Horatio Theater’s performance space. It a gutted-out, red brick building on Opera Alley that will soon be a black box theater with a spacious lobby. It is much larger than I expected, since fringe theaters tend to be tiny. The lobby area, which will eventually have a bar, is about the size of the lobby at Tacoma Little Theater, and the stage area is comparable, if not larger than Lakewood Playhouse, the largest black box in the area. Like Lakewood Playhouse, this black box will have the flexibility of having either a thrust stage or theater in the round, depending on the needs of performances offered.

The Horatio will not be an Equity house, but it will be professional. Staff and casts will be paid a percentage of ticket revenue.

The Horatio’s first offering came long before they even had a theater. It was a staged radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Proctor Blue Mouse movie theater, directed by Tacoma Actors Guild production manager James Venturini and starring John Munn as George Baily (reviewed in The News Tribune by Rosemary Ponnekanti).

Their first performance in the new theater will be “Molly Sweeny,” put on by local independent theater company Studio 21. “Sweeney” is Irish playwright Brian Friel’s play about a 41-year-old woman who suddenly regains her sight after being blind since infancy. Hanberg said it will open sometime in February.

In addition to staged plays, Hanberg hopes to create a regular late night venue for improv and skit comedy as well as regularly scheduled radio broadcasts. And he says he may bring in shows from Seattle. “I want to have as much theater there as I possibly can,” he says.

He says he has received a lot of help so far from other theater people in the area, including actors, directors, talent scouts and agents. “I’m just one guy. I can’t do it all.”

When asked if he was confident Tacoma is ready to support the kind of theater he wants to bring to town, he said, “That’s the million dollar question.” He explained that the challenge is, “If the audience is expecting Sondheim and I give them Mamet, they’re not going to be happy.”

So expect David Mamet and perhaps Sam Shepard, and Tom Stoppard. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Further information on The Horatio is available on their Web site at


Bev Sykes said...

Hey--I know this little play now running in New York that would be perfect. ;)

Alec Clayton said...

Confidential to Bev Sykes: Hey sweetie, I'm glad you're paying attention.

For everybody else: if you're going to NY, the play she's talking about is "The Big Voice: God or Merman" at The Actors Temple. It's the hottest thing off Broadway. See it if you get a chance.

Gabi Clayton said...

Here's the url for “The Big Voice: God or Merman?”
“The Big Voice" Video Diaries:

Bev Sykes said...

Nothing like 3 publicists getting together and using every opportunity to promote a show. LOL.