Opinion

Federal Way must maintain control of Knutzen Theatre

Bear with me as I attempt to do the impossible: Tie together the founding principles of our national republic into an appeal to the citizens of Federal Way, but especially the members of our city council and arts commission, to preserve the integrity of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

In the interest of full disclosure, my oldest son works for the Knutzen as a lights/sound technician. Rest assured, I do not make this appeal for the sake of his job. He’s a teenager and jobs come and go with the changing of their weekly interests.

Back to the subject at hand, the founding principles.

On Independence Day weekend, it’s fitting to recognize an important distinction with regard to our national model of government, which our local and state governments model themselves after. The model is not a democracy (though we use that term to describe the general principle of self-government), but it is, first and foremost, a constitutional republic. Why the distinction?

A pure democracy functions around the “majority rules” dictum, which by definition leaves out the voice of minorities and results in little more than “mob rule.” Sometimes, the “majority” might best be expressed by who has the most money and can “buy” or intimidate their way toward a majority with financial influence. The safeguard against this unfair advantage is a constitutional republic, which protects the rights of all citizens without prejudice to their state in life, race or religion. A constitutional republic is designed to protect the rights of individuals from being trampled on by a strict majority or the more powerful players in society.

One area where our city government functions on behalf of our families and young citizens is in the area of arts. The Knutzen Family Theatre currently oversees programs and performance arts training for all ages and all abilities.

Young people and members of our special needs community are all given access to drama classes, dance performances and small budget stage acts at little cost to the family. These programs are offered without regard to profit motive and as a service from our city government that contributes to the education, civic formation and cultural development for families as well as those who are not part of the “professional” performing arts class.

Recently, Alan Bryce, the director of Centerstage Theatre, a private professional performing arts group, has proposed that the city transfer management of the Knutzen Family Theatre facility into their hands, for, what else, “a small annual fee of $75,000.” Bryce maintains that this would be savings to the taxpayers of Federal Way, though it is unclear exactly what the taxpayers get in return. Did I hear someone say “conflict of interest?”

Currently, Centerstage pays rent to use the Knutzen just like everybody else, to stage their own performances for the general public. Transferring management to the director of Centerstage also means transferring authority from the city to a private entity to prioritize events and activities at the theater, without any guarantee of equal access to the lower paying, less glitzy artistic endeavors, like small piano or dance school recitals.

I wonder who will get priority: The special needs drama class putting on their rendition of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” or Centerstage’s latest glitzy thriller, comedy or musical?

I certainly hold no ill will to the wonderful work that Centerstage has offered to our city, and I am a frequent patron of their work. But there can be no doubt that such a transfer of the management of Knutzen will squeeze out access to the arts that we currently enjoy in our town. It will most certainly result in preferential consideration to the bottom line, where money is the majority consideration, not cultural exposure for all citizens.

Consider this my “Independence Day appeal” to the Federal Way Arts Commission and the Federal Way City Council to protect the interests of the less influential members of our city by maintaining management of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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