Knutzen Family Theatre: Tale of two takeover proposals

The Knutzen Family Theatre is located at the Dumas Bay Centre on Dash Point Road in Federal Way. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
The Knutzen Family Theatre is located at the Dumas Bay Centre on Dash Point Road in Federal Way.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

The direction of Federal Way's Knutzen Family Theatre is caught between two conflicting recommendations.

Both Centerstage Theatre and Tacoma Musical Playhouse submitted proposals for taking over management of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

A city council subcommittee recommended 2-1 giving the management of the Knutzen to Centerstage. This decision went against the recommendation of a panel, which reviewed both proposals and selected Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Committee members Jim Ferrell and Jeanne Burbidge voted to recommend to the full city council that Centerstage be given the management; committee member Mike Park voted to take the issue to the full council with no recommendation.

Things got a little heated as the debate between the two companies got under way March 10.

"I'm telling you, if you want Centerstage to stay, you need to hand us the management," Bryce said. "How can (Centerstage's proposal) be so bad? Son of a gun, we're not that bad! What do you want in your city?"

In the end, the city subcommittee seemed swayed by the pull of the hometown theater group, and voted in favor of Centerstage.

"I agree with Mr. Bryce," Ferrell said. "This isn't about numbers, it's about a feeling for the community. I am not prepared to think about our community without Centerstage. I vote for them."

Ferrell later said that he felt Centerstage had a proven track record for the city, and that giving Centerstage the contract was the only way to ensure KFT will stay a community theater.

The full city council will vote on the issue on April 7.


Federal Way has owned the property since purchasing the 12-acre Dumas Bay Center site in 1993 from the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery.

At 8,100 square feet, Knutzen Family Theatre is a 234-seat theater that houses productions as well as meetings, conferences and events. The theater was built in 1998 for $2.2 million. It is named after the Knutzen family, who are longtime Federal Way residents and donors.

The facility is mainly used by Centerstage Theatre, Knutzen Family Theatre Workshop, Aria Dance Company and Ninth Avenue School of Dance. There is also a recital space, which can hold up to 70 people.


A four-member panel was selected to read the written proposals and participate in the oral interview.

Criteria for the proposals included project approach, financial feasibility and cost effectiveness, key staff and experience.

The four-person panel agreed that in both the written proposal and oral interview, Tacoma Musical Playhouse was the preferred choice for taking over management of the Knutzen.

In the oral interview portion of the application, TMP outscored Centerstage by 426.5 points to 218.5, the panel determined.

Centerstage received much lower points than TMP in areas such as financial projections and providing the community with a quality facility that enhances the arts in Federal Way.

The committee was comprised of Charlie Rathbun, cultural arts program manager and member of 4Culture; Laurie Rose, cultural arts manager for Auburn; Heidi Horton, financial analyst for Federal Way; and Mary Faber, recreation and cultural services superintendent for Federal Way.

Centerstage proposal

For four years, Centerstage has been asking to take over running the Knutzen Family Theatre.

Centerstage officials have stated that taking over the theater from the city is the only thing that makes financial sense for the company — and the only way that Centerstage can continue in Federal Way.

"There is a little frustration on our part," said Alan Bryce, managing artistic director of Centerstage. "We've been working on this for four years; then two weeks to go, someone else comes in and gets the nod."

Centerstage has never managed a facility the size of the Knutzen. However, it has managed a 48-seat theater in the Spectrum Business Park. Bryce said he managed the 600-seat Landers Theatre in Springfield, Mo., from 2000-2002 and London's 120-seat Overground Theater from 1974-1981.

Centerstage's proposal includes using the theater for five of its own productions each year, or 15 to 20 weeks per year. Centerstage plans on retaining other renters including Ninth Avenue Dance and Aria Dance as well as the city for summer youth programs. Bryce said that it is essential for Centerstage to take over managing the theater to subsidize loss makers, including Storybook Theatre.

Tacoma Musical Playhouse proposal

Tacoma Musical Playhouse is the largest community theater in the entire four-state Northwest region, according to the company's proposal.

Mainstream shows bring in 5,500 to 6,500 patrons, the proposal stated. Current programming includes six fully-staged mainstage musicals, three fully-staged musicals for families, numerous speciality shows and an education department that provides camps, an after-school academy, senior theater and other classes. TMP owns and operates the Narrows Theatre Complex in Tacoma with a seating capacity of 380.

TMP would utilize most of its current employees, including managing artistic director Jon Douglas Rake, along with a music director, marketing and office manager, director of education, director of development and technical director. The plan calls for adding a part-time Knutzen Family Theatre administrative coordinator and keeping a technical coordinator, also part time. House manager, box office staffing and janitorial will be added as needed.

TMP will use its current employees to market KFT events.

"It's not being utilized to its full potential," Rake said of KFT. "We want to work with Centerstage. More theater is always better theater."

TMP plans to bring shows from its mainstage and from Tacoma Children's Musical Theater; concerts; family film series; touring productions from other production houses; and educational programs and presentations.

TMP proposed a 12-month schedule that will allow Centerstage, Ninth Avenue Dance, Aria Dance, Thistle Theatre, Storybook Theater, Pushcart Players, Missoula Children's Theatre and TMP produced musicals and year-round educational programs.

TMP is also looking at partnering with the Dumas Bay Center to offer dinner theater options and pre-show receptions.


• Centerstage proposes a managing fee of $70,000 and increasing eight percent per year. Meanwhile, Tacoma Musical Playhouse (TMP) is proposing a fee of $90,000 for the first year and dropping to $75,000 in the second year.

• Under the proposal from Centerstage, the theater rental revenues would drop from $22,980 in 2008 to $7,500 in the first year of Centerstage management, increasing a few hundred dollars each year thereafter. Under TMP, the rentals revenue per year is set for $60,000.

• TMP estimates that in the first year, it will have a surplus of $41,000. "We have been in the black all 13 years," said Lark Moore, president of TMP's board of directors. "We are very active in state theater."

• Centerstage estimates the theater will operate at a slight loss the first two years; however, by the third year the company expects to be making a profit. "Theater is not about numbers," said Alan Bryce, managing artistic director of Centerstage. "It's about the quality."

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