Fundraising begins to renovate historic theater

February 9, 2009

By Kathleen R. Merrill

$2.8 million needed for reconstruction

Robb Hunt, executive producer of Village Theatre, gestures around the old First Stage Theatre building while describing some of its aging problems, at a capital campaign fundraising kickoff event. By Greg Farrar

Robb Hunt, executive producer of Village Theatre, gestures around the old First Stage Theatre building while describing some of its aging problems, at a capital campaign fundraising kickoff event. By Greg Farrar

Village Theatre officials kicked off the public phase of fundraising last week to reconstruct the First Stage Theatre and they’re asking people to donate $1,000 for a named seat in the new venue.

First Stage, Issaquah’s original theater, is home to children’s programs, new plays and workshops.

Plans were to remodel the 95-year-old building at 120 Front St. N. but after officials learned the building had no foundation and the walls have been sinking, they had to change plans.

“Expectations when coming in this building to see a show are not very high,” Robb Hunt, executive director of Village Theatre, said to laughter from the audience at a fundraising kickoff Feb. 5.

“A lot of good things are going to happen in this building,” he said, and added that it would be “a loving reconstruction to try to save the materials” from the building.

“We’re going to tear it down and build it with a real foundation, wings on both sides of the stage, and dressing rooms and a green room for the actors,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

The building’s floor will be built flat, which it was originally, although that was changed over the years. The seats will retract to the back wall, so classes and rehearsals can be held instead. That will also allow for cabaret theater with table seating, said Hunt, who has been with Village Theatre since 1979.

The project will also include renovation of the second-floor office and storage spaces; replacement of the lighting, sound, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; and put the building in compliance with current Americans with Disabilities Act standards, providing accessibility for disabled patrons and artists.

“It’s going to be a really nice place,” Hunt said, “and have a big impact on the lives of the kids who come through here.”

The theater is in dire need of repair. Dressing rooms in the basement can’t be used, because there is only one exit, making it a fire hazard. Those rooms are now for storage.

A tiny trailer behind the theater now stands in for dressing rooms for some cast members. Those who have been in productions in the building in recent years talk and joke about becoming too familiar with their cast mates because of the cramped dressing room space. When asked about that, Bobbie Kotula, an actress who was giving tours, laughed and winked.

The building was built in 1913 and the owners lived upstairs, Hunt said. That upstairs is now filled with mold and falling apart. People who came to the fundraising kickoff said they were surprised that the rooms were so dingy and in such disrepair. Ceilings are falling in, paint has chipped away and the carpeting is well past worn.

About $1.54 million of the $2.8 million needed for the reconstruction has been raised, thanks in part to a $500,000 challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation. Village Theatre will get the grant if it raises the remainder of the money it needs, hence the seat-naming campaign.

The fund is $180,000 from the start of construction, said Craig Watjen, co-chair of the Capital Campaign Cabinet. That was immediately amended when a $1,000 donation was presented by Keith Watts, president of the DownTown Issaquah Association. DIA members raised $714 by selling raffle tickets at Salmon Days, and added the rest to make the donation with seat-naming rights.

With more than 18,000 subscriptions, Village Theatre is the third largest subscriber-based theater company in the state, according to Dan Anderson, a member of the theater’s board of directors. Only the opera and the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle have more subscribers, he said.


How to help

-For a donation of $1,000, your name will be engraved on a permanent brass plate on a theater seat.

-For a donation of $5,000, your name will be displayed permanently on the Capital Campaign donor wall plaque.

-In both instances, your name will also be listed in the Campaign Celebration program and you’ll be invited to that exclusive event.

-Call 392-1942.

Reach Editor Kathleen R. Merrill at 392-6434, ext. 227, or Comment on this story at

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