SEATTLE: Book-It Repertory Theatre has announced plans to cease operations after 33 years. The literary-inspired theatre intends to close following the run of its current production of David Greig’s Solaris, adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science fiction novel and directed by outgoing artistic director Gus Menary, which opened June 17 and runs through July 9. Book-It encourages audiences to come and support its final show, as revenue and donations from this production will go toward artisans and staff while the theatre prepares to close for good.
“In our board vote, we unanimously passed a motion to begin the process of closing Book-It,” said board secretary Becky Monk in a statement. “We all still believe in the art form and can’t help but hope that we will see a show in the Book-It narrative style on a Seattle stage again….But our focus right now is to close without undue harm.”
Season subscribers who have already bought tickets to the 2023-24 season can request and receive a full refund or choose to donate their funds to support the company through the end of the current season. Book-It’s leaders say they will be pursuing fundraising opportunities over the next few months to close the gap between existing accounts payable and final closure, and they anticipate retaining up to three employees for several months to help the organization sunset gracefully.
Book-It Repertory Theatre was founded in 1990 by co-artistic directors Jane Jones and Myra Platt with the mission of transforming great literature into great theatre and inspiring a love of reading through live, communal experiences. Book-It’s unique narrative theatre storytelling technique, in which the prose of literary works is spoken as well as staged, garnered more than 150 original adaptations and reached 60,000 K-12 students in Washington schools annually through its dedicated Arts and Education program.
Jones and Platt stepped down in 2020, making way for a new chapter under artistic director Gus Menary and then-managing director Kayti Barnett-O’Brien, who left in 2022. She was then succeeded by Jeannine Clarke, who also stepped down earlier this month. Menary announced plans to relocate to Chicago at this end of this season, after directing Solaris.
Book-It hired interim artistic director Kelly Kitchens in March to take over for Menary, and says in its closure statement that the board was “fully invested in strategic planning for the company’s future and the 2023/24 season, as well as exploring new sustainable business models.” Unfortunately the company struggled to make achievable revenue projections, and was ultimately unable to generate sufficient resources given a slow audience return to live, in-person performances, decreased ticket sales, and limited individual giving. Book-It’s budget normally relies on just 30 percent ticket sales, with the remaining costs subsidized by individual giving and grants.
Book-It says its experience is similar to theatre organizations across the country that continue to balance increasing production costs and attempts to provide livable wages with an uncertain financial model and donations that have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
In addition to its 18 permanent staff members and more than 267 cast members, designers, dramaturgs, artisans, technicians, directors, and writers, Book-It provides shop space, scenic building, paint services, and other scenic assistance to local nonprofit theatre companies, as well as providing resources to schools and other community organizations. These services currently support roughly five to six local theatres per season.
The theatre had reportedly begun outreach with other groups in the industry to strategize new ways of working together and sharing costs, and says “there was a scenario where Book-It could come back with a stronger, more sustainable model.” But the theatre’s statement adds “that would only be feasible if that strategy included paying a livable wage, meeting necessary protocols that protect artists, employing understudies, acquiring affordable rental, rehearsal, and venue space, and building a reliable funding model.”
“This is an incredibly difficult decision to make,” said board president Christine Stepherson in a statement. “We know the reverberations this will have on the theatre industry in this town, on actors, stage managers, stage technicians and crews, writers, directors. We need mid-sized theatres such as Book-It for the entire eco-system to flourish. We have a dream team of artisans and staff at Book-It who believe in our mission and have gone above and beyond, we have a small but dedicated board, but we don’t currently have a model that works.”
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