Opinion

Tacoma Musical Playhouse, not Centerstage, should manage Federal Way's Knutzen Family Theatre

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

(Editor's note: The following letter was sent to the Federal Way City Council regarding the proposed management of the Knutzen Family Theatre. It has been reprinted in its entirety. Click here for background information.)

By Charlie Rathbun, arts program manager, 4Culture

March 9, 2009

Dear council members:

I am writing to convey my thoughts and observations regarding the recent interview and selection process for management of the Knutzen Family Theatre.

I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this process and I applaud your efforts to seek a sustainable solution for the management of this valuable community asset. I was invited by Mary Faber (Federal Way's recreation and cultural services superintendent) to attend your Tuesday council meeting, but unfortunately have a conflict. I hope this letter can be of service in your process.

I am the manager of the arts program for 4Culture, a position I have held for more than 15 years. I am fairly well acquainted with a number of community arts leaders in Federal Way, as 4Culture has been a longtime funder, supporter and advocate for your local arts programs, artists and cultural organizations.

Of the two candidates that applied for this position, I was familiar with Centerstage, which 4Culture has supported over the years and whose work I have reviewed in the past. I have always admired their dedication, their devotion to the challenging art of theater and their commitment to the community of Federal Way. I was entirely unfamiliar with the second candidate, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse. In fact, my only misgiving about being asked to participate in this process was my personal bias in favor of Centerstage, based on their work and longtime association with the Knutzen Theatre and the Federal Way community.

We interview Centerstage first and they impressed me, as I expected, with their passion and dedication, their desire to continue producing in the Knutzen and, what I can only call, their scrappy devotion to their artform, which as a former theater manager myself, I can fully appreciate.

Beyond their own producing ambitions, however, their plan for the ongoing management of the facility itself seemed somewhat extraneous to their primary mission. I noted, for example, that their financial plan relied on increasing subsidy from the city in future years. Their answers to specific questions about earned and donated income were unclear. My overall sense was that their primary focus was on preserving the facility for their own use and their own producing work. Their annual operating budget is under $200,000, and I questioned whether Centerstage really has the capacity to take on the year-round management, development and community outreach required for operation of this facility.

In contrast, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse, a $1.2 million operation, was represented by five full-time staff members who were each engaged in the development, management and educational programming of the organization. Their plan and vision for the use of the facility was fully articulated. They responded well to our panel's questions about their commitment to the Federal Way community, and demonstrated a sensitivity and desire to address issues of local identity for the Knutzen and outreach to other Federal Way arts organizations. I noted that several of them lived in Federal Way and have a personal stake in the success of this project. Their anticipated budget showed a decrease in the city's subsidy in future years and their plans included a logical extension of their current educational programming, an obvious strong potential for use of the Knutzen facility. They were enthusiastic about the opportunity and demonstrated an impressive production history and fiscal track record in their Tacoma-based facility. My further inquiries with several of our funding colleagues around the region confirmed my own positive impressions.

As much as I admire and support the work of Centerstage, the choice for this job was obvious. Tacoma Musical Playhouse appears to have the capacity, the readiness and the vision to assume the task of operating the Knutzen. Although they were one of only two candidates, I believe the City of Federal Way is fortunate to have an organization of this caliber interested in developing this asset for the greater community benefit.

While I remain supportive of Centerstage and sincerely hope that they can continue their mission and work in your community, there was no question of our panel's consensus in this decision.

Thank you again for including me in this important process.

Charlie Rathbun is the arts program manager for 4Culture. Visit www.4culture.org/arts to learn more. Send comments to editor@federalwaymirror.com

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