Last week I wrote about Dukesbay Productions’ new black box theater in Tacoma’s Merlino Building, where New Muses is about to open their season with Neil Labute’s “The Shape of Things.” This week I got to see the theater from the inside, and the hard work that’s gone into making a permanent home for fringe theater in Tacoma
Husband-and-wife theater duo Randy and Aya Hashiguchi Clark are the masterminds behind the project. As Dukesbay Productions they’ve presented plays in other non-traditional venues like the revamped basement of First Congregational Church downtown, but instability is always the threat with such venues, like when they got double-booked, or when First Congregational recently got sold to Mars Hill Church. So when they got the chance to rent a large third floor studio in the historic Merlino Building (above The Grand Cinema) they took it.
“We built this not just for our use,” says Aya. “We want to see fringe and independent theater in Tacoma. A lot of small productions have no place in which they can perform that’s affordable. We’re charging a little less than comparable spaces.”
To achieve that, the Clarks have done a lot of the work themselves, helped by landlord Cheryl Merlino’s handyman. They’ve filled the 25-by-50-foot room with a ceiling-high steel bar frame and hung black curtains on it, which can be adjusted to create various stage, audience and walkway spaces, as well as black out the tall windows. They installed a light grid with its own electrical system. They put tile flooring over the hardwoods so they can paint if they like, and had risers built for the 40 seats. A former photography studio is being built up into a closed-off green room with adjoining utility room. The theater shares restrooms with the other tenants on the floor.
“It creates a pretty neat space,” Randy says. “We built it so you could do anything with it. It’s currently in avenue seating (two facing rows of audience with stage in between) but you could do it in the round, or build a proscenium.”
Dukesbay Productions itself will present one or two shows a year in the theater, beginning with “Driving Miss Daisy” in November (auditions happen July 28). The rest of the time the Clarks are hoping the space will be used by other local companies, some of whom are already interested.
“The Merlino family want the arts to happen here,” Aya says.
For more information on the Dukesbay Theater, see dukesbay.org