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Growing Pains, Theatre Edition 

Artists struggle to find affordable performance space in Bend

The first thing I did when I moved to Bend was storm into 2nd Street Theater and beg to be included in any way possible. Sandy J. Klein, the managing director of Stage Right Productions (the nonprofit that used to operate out of 2nd Street), graciously offered me a stage-managing role. Since then, I have gone on to write, produce, direct and act in numerous shows.

Clinton K. Clark rehearses for a performance of Twelfth Night at the Deschutes Historical Museum. - CAYLA CLARK
  • Cayla Clark
  • Clinton K. Clark rehearses for a performance of Twelfth Night at the Deschutes Historical Museum.

Had I shown up two years later, I may not have been so lucky. 

For years, 2nd Street was home to local artists, performers and like-minded "theater people." When it shut down in 2018, many artists were displaced. Now, those who want to put on original shows are scrambling to find affordable, adequate venues. Cascades Theatrical Company usually charges $700 a night for rentals, and the Tower Theatre charges $1300 a night plus 8% of gross ticket sales. Not only are these costs extremely high for small-scale, independent production companies, but both venues are booked through... well, the end of time (into the spring/summer of 2020, at least). 

Eagle Mountain Event Center has become a somewhat viable option, though it is only realistic if a show gets ample financial backing. As demand increases, cost increases. Kathryn Galàn, a member of the local theater community, understands the dilemma.

"We're out of step with what we need," she said. "It's ridiculous. We have an arts council that doesn't exist—it's defunct. We need a city effort, a county effort, developers... we need to catch up. Newport has a huge art center; they've got 10,000 residents compared to our 100,000."

Newport, Oregon, population 10,592 to Bend's 94,520 in 2017, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, is home to the Newport Performing Arts Center, complete with a 328-seat proscenium and an 80-seat black box theater. Redding, California (population 91,794 in 2017), has a plethora of options—including the Riverfront Playhouse, the Cascade Theater, the Redding Theatre Company and more.

In Bend, artists have turned to performing in restaurants and bars, such as The Capitol and Craft Kitchen and Brewery. These spaces tend to be affordable, though they lack necessary production components such as adequate lighting systems, sound systems and so on.

Derek Sitter, the owner of the Volcanic Theatre Pub, informed the Source that his venue gets booked up months and months in advance. While predominantly known for being a live music venue, Sitter welcomes artists of all kinds.

"I encourage anyone to reach out to me; we're doing more local events than ever before," said Sitter. "But we're so, so busy. We're currently booked through May of 2020." He explained that although he prioritizes supporting local and regional artists, the volume of booking requests often has to result in rejection. 

"I think the time has come for some kind of a co-op or a true rep theatre company, where everyone shares and/or helps build a space, and shares the work and financials involved in keeping that space active for new and experimental work," said Klein in an email to the Source. "Everyone needs to pitch in, from shoveling snow to building sets."

Matthew Vigil, founder of Lonely Fish Productions—a small, local production company— agrees that a community space is sorely needed. Vigil's company produced "Steel Magnolias," at The Capitol Nov. 8 (a play directed by Karen Sipes). In an interview with the Source, he noted that while the owners and staff members are exceptionally helpful and accommodating, producing in a show in a basement bar is far from ideal. "It is a bar, it isn't made for shows," he explained. "Noise is a major issue."

Vigil also touched on a catch-22 that sole proprietorship production companies like his are facing. "The conundrum is, it's way more affordable to put on a locally written show because you don't have to pay for rights. However, as much as this town touts the importance of 'supporting local,' it's easier to fill seats with a well-known show." 

Clinton K. Clark, founder of local production companies Dionysus Presents and the Guerrilla Shakespeare Company, recently moved from Bend to Chicago for more opportunity. "We've done well to utilize the spaces we have," he said. "But in order to do theater fully, as intended, we need more venues than the Tower and CTC. We should have a performing arts center by now." During the summer months, Clark produce Shakespeare shows in numerous outdoor venues, ranging from the Deschutes Historical Museum to the Deschutes Memorial Gardens—a cemetery.

Actors make do with what they’ve got at the Deschutes Historical Museum this past summer. - CAYLA CLARK
  • Cayla Clark
  • Actors make do with what they’ve got at the Deschutes Historical Museum this past summer.

Community members are discussing banding together to create a reasonably priced, artist-friendly space. Charlie Thiel, who purchased what was once 2nd Street Theater, is working on developing a multi-purpose rental space, Open Space Event Studio, set to open in March. "It will be geared towards anything creative," he said. "We've seen how much of a need there is, people struggling to find space." Thiel is expecting everything from large corporate events to theater companies. As far as affordability, "We'll offer a sliding price scale," he informed. The event center will feature adjustable lighting, a portable stage and seating available for rent.

"I know there has been talk of a performing arts center complete with a black box theater, and I've chatted with other people who are thinking about creating entertainment spaces," Klein wrote. "In my opinion, if all the factions got together and pooled resources and got the 'powers that be' to back them, something could get done. It takes a ton of hard work, someone with business savvy and financial backing." For now, local artists will have to continue getting creative—or taking their original works elsewhere.


Editor's note: In the print version of this story, we stated that Matthew Vigil of Lonely Fish Productions both produced and directed Steel Magnolias. The show was directed by Karen Sipes. We regret the error.

About The Author

Cayla Clark

Cayla graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting, soon after realizing that playwriting is not a viable career option. Fortunately, this led her to journalism, and she is thrilled to be part of such a unique and fun-loving team. Upcoming local events? Send them her way!
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