A year ago, they would have been content to call themselves community theaters hanging out in the Spokane Valley.
Ambitions grow. Now both Valley Repertory Theatre and Artistic Community Theater prefer to be known as performing arts groups that just happen to be based in the Valley.
Partly by accident or partly from geography, those two Valley groups are Spokane’s best source of grassroots theater.
Both are relatively young and are still struggling to win new audiences. Both are easily way past the six-guys-doing-plays-in-an-old-warehouse type organization.
And yet, despite having two years of operation for Artistic Community Theatre and about five years for Valley Rep, both groups have that well-known Spokane infection - living month-to-month without a solid financial base or anchor.
“We have to make a transformation from where we’ve been,” said Jamie Flanery, owner and artistic director of ACT.
He says the past two years have cost him about $25,000 to run the theater.
“One of the goals now is to move toward having a board and non-profit status,” moving from a shaky financial perch to something more established, the 38-year-old Flanery said. “Otherwise, it’s just an expensive hobby.”
Valley Repertory Theatre artistic director Jodine Watson, a 30-year Spokane theater veteran, echoes the same concern for a healthier ledger. “We’re like any other theater company that I know. We’re in the desperate mode. Short of going door-to-door, we have to make the Valley and the area more aware that we’re here.”
Both companies plan on having better seasons next year, hoping to build the respect that comes through word of mouth and other means.
The respect they now have indicates audiences like what each is doing.
Both ACT and Valley Rep offer shows not seen at the two better-established companies in town - Spokane Civic Theatre and Interplayers.
ACT’s playhouse at 425 N. Evergreen has offered six plays this season, including both proven modern works like “Agnes of God” and newer shows like “To Gillian, On Her 37th Birthday.” That new American work opens next month and is ACT’s final show of this season.
Valley Repertory, whose building is at Sprague and Pines, has mixed together older favorites like “Inspecting Carol” and “Of Mice and Men” and highly regarded modern plays, like “God’s Country,” a tough look at white supremacists in this region. Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” runs through April 30, followed by the challenging work, “Ruthless,” which closes this season at Valley Rep.
Watson contends the first and foremost concern is to wake people up to the Valley’s two young theater companies.
“Some of our own neighbors here in this part of the Valley aren’t even aware we’re here. Valley people are just now discovering what we’re doing out here,” she said.
Added Flanery: “People who know theater know we’re out here. There’s a lot of crossover of people who see plays (at the Civic or Interplayers) who come out here.”
What he’s trying to alter is the assumption that getting to the Valley is a hassle for non-Valley residents.
“People think, ‘Oh, it’s so far,’ when in fact, it’s about 12 minutes from downtown,” said Flanery.
Watson and Flanery view their roles as helping more people discover Spokane’s theater talent.
“I feel like we’re a farm system for the other theaters,” Flanery said. “I want ACT to create theater-goers for the Civic and for Interplayers. Supporting them is important, too.”
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