Nine days to go until the grand opening of the Seattle Symphony's Benaroya Hall. Technicians from the company that made the heavy soundproof doors between lobby and auditorium are frantically oiling to eliminate loud squeaks and creaks; the receptionist can't find the Symphony's conductor Gerard Schwarz on his phone list. Tucked discreetly every few feet under the plantings of the Second Avenueside "garden of remembrance"—temporarily, everyone hopes—are squat black rat traps. All part of the shakedown opening a brand-new building . . .
. . . and a brand-new company to operate it. The legal intricacies of the contract governing the city's latest palace of culture are enough to make a non-attorney's head spin, but the basics are simple enough. In ex-change for how much the public put into the project, the city wholly owns Benaroya Hall and the land it stands on. But instead of operating the hall itself (like the Opera House and other Seattle Center facilities), the city deal with the Symphony calls for the hall to be leased to a newly created nonprofit company titled the Benaroya Hall Music Center (BHMC). BHMC will operate for the benefit of its "members," of which it has only one, viz., the Seattle Symphony (all clear now?). BHMC will also contract with various outside specialists for services like security, parking, catering, maintenance, and the like.
One class of service employees the BHMC has secured is ushers, and the company has decided to go non-union in hiring them. Not to save money, but because the union ushers who service city facilities and halls like the 5th Avenue are assigned according to seniority, explains theater operations manager Alby Allen. "We want our ushers to be focused on Benaroya Hall and our audience. A lot of our subscribers are elderly and they like to see the same usher every time, someone who's familiar with them." Ushering in the smaller Nordstrom recital hall will be even cozier and less pricey: "Ushers there will be volunteers," says Allen. "We want to keep costs for community groups using it to a minimum."
Even after contracting out many of the new hall's support services, the BHMC and its boss lady, former SSO orchestra manager Patricia Isacson Sabee, are playing on unfamiliar turf—in a whole new game, in fact. Orchestra management has never had real estate to worry about before, and is finding that a lot of support services it used to take for granted are harder to arrange than they were when a simple phone call to Seattle Center was enough. That's the main reason for the convoluted legal set-up governing the hall: The SSO exists to play music, the BHMC, to run a building. Neither enterprise is risk-free, and the nonprofit-reporting-to-a-nonprofit set-up is specifically designed as a firewall, so that if in future seasons the hall were to prove a cash vacuum, the orchestra and its endowment would be protected. And, of course, given the shaky financial state of classical music production in America—see last week's $7 million bailout of the ailing Houston Symphony—vice versa.
Silents are golden
You wouldn't think a string of old silent movies with pipe-organ accompaniment was a formula for packin' 'em in on a summer Monday evening, but you'd be wrong: "We only sold about nine tickets in advance," says the Paramount Theater's John Dunavent. "But by a quarter-hour before showtime they were lined up back to the freeway overpass." Nearly 800 people turned up for that show (Buster Keaton's The General), topped by more than 900 for the next week's screening of Charlie Chaplin's The Goldrush and the 1,235 who turned out last Monday for Harold Lloyd's Safety Last. The series took in more than $25,000. "Not enough to make money," says Dunavent, "but it was a great start and a hell of a lot of fun."
This just in
Turns out One Reel's cabaret dinner-theater Teatro Zinzanni won't be opening Green Lakeside after all; the state shoreline management act calls for a six-month waiting period before any waterside construction—even when the construction is basically a portable, wooden tent. One Reel's Norm Langill has already found a new home for his pet project: the vacant lot across from Pacific Northwest Ballet's Mercer Street office-studio.
U Book Store's Chandler leaps to Third Place
Third Place Books, the start-up superstore financed by Crossroads shopping center developer Ron Sher, let the local book world know it's serious about competing with the big boys by recently luring readings booker Judith Chandler away from her longtime post at University Book Store. Last week, just days after bidding the U Book Store staff adieu, Chandler was working the phones to pencil local authors into Third Place's schedule. Since she spent most of the summer finalizing the U Book Store's fall lineup, "I'm almost competing with myself," she laughed. Third Place expects to open its 45,000-square-foot store at Lake Forest Park Towne Centre in mid-November.
Sher has said that Third Place was inspired by the ideas of urban theorist Ray Oldenberg, who believes that everybody needs three places to go in their lives: home, work, and a "third place" to socialize in the local community. The Third Place team plans to include restaurants, a branch of the Honeybear bakery, a 400-seat performance area, and a more intimate author reading space. "They've got money and aren't afraid to do it right," Chandler said.
Kim Ricketts, who formerly ran the book clubs at University Book Store, stepped into Chandler's shoes last week. Look for her to add a little more fiction to the nonfiction-heavy reading schedule in coming months.