In 2000, Taproot Theatre had high hopes for a bright future. The community theater started by six friends back in 1976 had grown into an established presence in the Greenwood neighborhood. And some 24 years after it began, Taproot purchased the adjacent historical Eleanor Roosevelt Building with the hopes of one day expanding. While they waited and planned, Taproot leased out the building to a few small businesses.
But all such dreams of expansion were halted in 2009 when a serial arsonist set some 10 fires in Greenwood and one in Shoreline, causing about $3 million worth of damage, including destroying the Eleanor Roosevelt Building and causing serious smoke and water damage to the Taproot Theatre. The fires created a large, burnt scar on the block and bulldozers finally pulled down the charred remains of the Eleanor Roosevelt Building.
But the community would not allow the space to remain an open wound. Artists from Seattle Mural Art, an affiliate of local Greenwood’s Bherd Studios, created an 89 x 8 ft. mural to commemorate the businesses affected by the fires. The brightly colored painting, featuring a phoenix rising from flames, was installed along the street where the Eleanor Roosevelt Building used to stand. “While we’re working on a long‐term plan for the property, we want to give back to our community by creating something of beauty for them, something to remind them that this is a special place to live and work,” said Taproot’s producing artistic director Scott Nolte in a December 2009 statement. He later explained, “We saw it as an opportunity to rebuild and put some light on the street and bring back some vitality. It was missional to get [the space] up and productive again.”
That missional goal was accomplished this past December when Taproot finally revealed its new LEED Silver certified Kendall Center, complete with a 120-seat black box theater, lobby, new cafe, dressing rooms, scene shop, administrative offices, and storage space. The addition has tripled Taproot’s sidewalk presence. “It’s absolutely gorgeous!” Taproot communications manager Elizabeth Griffin gushes. “This is really wonderful for the community. It gives a really nice upscale place for Greenwood members to come."
Everything about the new Kendall Center speaks to its unique neighborhood orientation. Taproot chose to keep the annoyances of a large construction project at a minimum by opting for a modular, prefab construction — essentially doubling their space overnight without the headache of space-consuming and loud machinery. The artwork in the Kendall Center lobby is from their friends at Bherd Studios. Even the Stage Door Cafe serves beer from the nearby Naked City Brewery and Taphouse.
Though you can stop by the Stage Door Cafe any time Monday through Saturday from 11am–8 for a meal or a glass of wine, Taproot patrons can best enjoy the new space in conjunction with the theater’s upcoming production In the Book Of by New York playwright John Walch (who has been Skyping in to watch the rehearsals). The story focuses on U.S. lieutenant Naomi Watkins and her faithful Afghan translator, Anisah. When the two friends travel back to Naomi’s hometown and Anisah’s visa is brought into question, the entire community is beset with suspicions about the foreigner in their midst.
In the Book Of’s sensitive subject matter makes it perfect fodder for community conversation. Taproot is capitalizing on its rich topic by partnering with World Relief Seattle for a “Stories of the Stranger” panel event on April 8 at 7:30, which features Afghan refugees who transitioned to Seattle and the American families that welcomed them. The event is free, but a ticket is required to reserve a space. Tickets are available by calling 206-781-9707 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are always wanting to have more engagement with the community and with our patrons,” Griffin says. “Taproot is a theater that really seeks to inspire conversation.”
In the Book Of
March 28–April 26, Taproot Theatre, $20-$40
Taproot Theatre Conversations: Stories of a Stranger
April 8 at 7:30, Taproot Theatre, Free (ticket required)