Last night I went to see ghost and homeless people in Old City Hall. No, it’s not what you think – it’s an evening of two new plays by Tacoma playwright Nick Stokes. My review’s here, and I definitely think you should see it before the run ends on Nov. 22.
But what’s really interesting about this show (apart from the plays, of course) is that Stokes got a great venue for cheap. Tacoma’s Old City Hall is far from the glory days of 2006-07, when developer The Stratford were angling for luxury-condo clients like Dale Chihuly for their suites in the 115-year-old Italian Renaissance-style landmark. Since April this year the boot’s been on the other foot, as my former colleague Dan Voelpel reported, with current manager David Morton begging the local arts community to rent cut-price studio space and make the place – empty except for the Pierce County AIDS Foundation and a photography studio – seem a little less like a haunted house. But apart from a 100th Monkey party a few months ago, there’ve been no takers.
Which brings us to Stokes, who thanks to Morton and a City of Tacoma TAIP grant was able to afford to stage his plays in what has to be the coolest venue around town at the moment. I took a walking tour around this building in daylight a couple of years ago, including the decrepit bell tower (yes, I rang the bell!), but go in there at night and it’s a different story. The corridors echo away into darkness, the staircases twist spookily into unknown areas, and the streets around are deserted.
Add in Stokes’ fantastic imaginings of ghostly motel rooms and homeless guys dying in nearby Fireman’s Park, and you’ve got Halloween all over again.
Just imagine what this place could be like as a permanent arts center: open spaces for theater, music and dance, quirky studios for artists, a bookshop and cafe (Blackwater, we need you!). Maybe Dale Chihuly could even buy the penthouse suite and finance the whole deal. The ghosts could stay.