Not the Final Bow for Slocum House Theatre Company

Troupe looks to future at end of stay at historic site

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Despite the cheesecakes, bon bons and chocolate cake laid out for visitors, the mood at Saturday night’s final gala for the Slocum House Theatre Company at its home of 46 years was bittersweet.

But, as actors are known to say, the show will go on.

The local performance staple announced last week that it will close March 11, citing economic stresses. But as members performed scenes from their final show, “Greater Tuna,” and well over 60 people crowded into its small rooms, Board President Jim Fully said they’ve already got their minds on the future.

“It has come really quickly,” he said of the word of the group’s decision to leave the historic home at the southwest

corner of Esther Short Park. “It is what it is. It’s not the best thing in the world, but we’re excited to move forward.”

The group’s saga began in December, when the city of Vancouver, which owns and operates the property on the southwest corner of Esther Short Park, said it would have to raise the fees it charges for use. Rent would have gone from $635 a month to $2,500 a month, with the city -- also struggling financially -- saying it needed to recuperate costs. But the two sides were negotiating, and last week’s announcement took city officials by surprise.

Rather, Fully said the process showed that Slocum House Theatre was unsustainable with or without a rent increase.

Still, he said, it’s “not all doom and gloom.” The company is looking for available warehouse or similar space downtown from which to relaunch its tradition of local theater.

In one room, a longtime member showed his grandson black and white photos of shows past. In another, younger actors laughed and discussed their costumes.

Dennis Sparks was among the crowd. Sparks, now 65, played Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol -- the company’s first play -- while he was in college, and before it had even moved to its current location.

He was upset about the news of the theater’s closure, although he added, “I’m not terribly surprised.”

“I guess that’s what they call progress, but the problem is it’s progress going in reverse,” Sparks said. “Anybody who has been in the arts knows how important the arts are in building character.”

Sparks, who has been involved in Vancouver theater for about 45 years, said there were over two dozen troupes in Clark County when he got going. Now, he said, he can count them on one hand.

“I don’t see good things for local theater in general,” he said. “That’s really scary.”

The Slocum House’s last production, “Greater Tuna,” a comedy about Texas’ third-smallest town, with all the residents portrayed by two actors, will be free. The show begins Feb. 17 and runs through March 11. Donations for Share House will be accepted at the door. Tickets, which are selling out, are available at http://www.slocumhouse.com/tickets.htm.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.