Tucked in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood in a refurbished movie house, Taproot Theatre Company is bustling with action. With a mission to be a “theater of hope” and a specific need for small-cast comedies and musicals that play on the theater’s deep thrust, Associate Artistic Director Karen Lund keeps her finger on the pulse of new work being produced around the country in search of new work for Taproot’s mainstage. A fan of playwrights and the development process, she leans into the opportunity to give a new play a second production. “What I love about bringing new work to our space is that the playwright will learn something here that they won’t learn in a proscenium or a modified thrust. Our space is completely different, and it’s going to feel completely different in this new production and with a new approach.” As the lucky recipient of a beautiful second production of a new work at Taproot in 2017, I experienced this firsthand. Having just come off our first production, we felt immense gratitude to be back in the room with Lund and her team and to have the chance to revisit some things, and indeed gained important insight from seeing the piece staged in such a unique space.
Including their robust touring programming, Taproot [produces] three to five new plays a year—some of which are one-acts with anti-bullying themes that tour middle and high schools, and some of which are full-length productions on their mainstage. Some of the titles by Dramatists Guild members who live across the country include Necessary Sacrifices by Richard Hellesen in 2019; my own production of Sweet Land in 2018 (with collaborators Perrin Post and composer Dina Maccabee); Persuasion: A New Musical based on Jane Austen's novel, book by DG member Harold Taw, music and lyrics by Chris Jefferies (world premiere); Relativity by Mark St. Germain (NNPN Rolling World Premiere) in 2017; The Realization of Emily Linder by Richard Strand (NNPN) in 2016; and Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol by John Longenbaugh in both 2010 and ’12.
In talking about Taproot’s place in the larger community, Lund shared her appreciation for how the whole Seattle ecosystem takes care of each other. As she put it, “When one of us does well, we all do well, otherwise we risk losing Seattle talent to other markets.” Persuasion came to her after a months-long development process at 5th Avenue. “When it wasn’t headed for their main stage, I got a call from Ian Eisendrath, the workshop music director who was on 5th Avenue’s staff at the time, saying, ‘I think this might be a show for Taproot.’” And it turned out to be the most successful Taproot production to date. “That’s the Seattle theatre culture,” Lund says. “We share resources and encourage each other. Your success equals my success.”
Taproot deserves every success, having endured significant hardship in 2009 when an arsonist set thirty-six fires in the Greenwood neighborhood and a fire was set in the building next door to the refurbished movie house Taproot calls home. Unfortunately, of all the fires the arsonist set, this was the one that “took hold.” The theatre was saved, but it was severely damaged when the fire department soaked it in water in order to save the structure. At the time, Taproot also owned that building next door, which they had been renting to restaurants; it went up in flames. After the fire, Taproot rose like a phoenix with a refurbished theatre and reimagined a new use for the space once occupied by the rental property with new administrative offices, a scene shop, a black-box rehearsal/performance space, and a wonderful coffeehouse and wine bar on street level that is open to the public daily. Lund explained that Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte had a brilliant idea to rebuild in that space using modular units, which made it possible to realize their vision for a project of this scope in the middle of a severe economic downturn. The design is such that the first floor coffee shop feels original to the neighborhood while the modular structures create spacious and utilitarian spaces for the theater’s day-to-day operations and rehearsals.
If you’re in Seattle, be sure to see the upcoming Babette’s Feast, a (relatively) new work from DG member Rose Courtney on its fourth production at Taproot. If you’re not, join me in raising a glass to Taproot in celebration of their commitment to producing the second (or third or fourth) productions of a new work! www.taproottheatre.org
LAURIE FLANIGAN HEGGE is a playwright/lyricist from Minneapolis where she serves as Regional Rep for the Guild and as Artistic Associate at History Theatre in St. Paul. Musicals include: Dirty Business, Sweet Land, Boxcar, Twenty Days to Find a Wife, Hormel Girls, See Jane Vote, and Loose Lips Sink Ships.