01 March 2006

Saving the Source Theatre

Photo from DCist.com, whom I believe got it from another source, no pun intended.
Though it has gotten coverage in the media (here, here, here, and here), I'm not sure enough people are aware of the pending contract Bedrock Companies (Atomic Billiards, Buffalo Billiards, Mackeys, etc.) has on the Source Theatre property. Tomorrow night (Thursday, March 2nd) I'll be attending the ANC-1B meeting, 7pm at the True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street, NW to support Washington Improv Theater (WIT) and those in the community who want to see the facility remain a viable theater for the DC arts community. Mark Chalfant, WIT's Artistic Director, wrote a wonderful letter and sent it to all concerned parties - the list is far too long to repeat here. The letter, however, sums up why DC - not just the Ward 1 community - must come together to save the theater:
On behalf of Washington Improv Theater (WIT), I am writing in regards to the recently announced sale of the Source Theatre facility at 1835 14th Street, NW. Source has announced plans to sell the building to the Bedrock Companies, who plan to convert the space to a bar and grill with pool tables. News of the sale is deeply troubling to everyone who wants the arts to thrive in Washington. We urge you to do anything in your power to prevent the arts community and the community at large from losing this valuable cultural asset.

Historical Context:

For twenty-eight years, this 140-seat black box theater has hosted many of our city's finest emerging talents – actors, directors, playwrights and theater companies – playing a unique role in cultivating new work and driving creative and economic activity to 14th Street, NW, one of our city's great streets.

In A Nutshell:

Exact details of the Source Theatre Company's situation have been hard to come by. The basic facts, to the best of our knowledge so far, are:

• Source shut its doors two years ago to sort out its finances, promising to open them again in a few months' time and to engage the community in efforts to resolve the company's problems. That outreach and reopening never occurred, and the decision to sell the property seems to have been made with no community consultation.

• The sale of the property to the Bedrock Companies is set for closing in May, with a sale price in the $3-million range.

• Source owes the city approx. $375,000 on a mortgage note, and $25,000 for the return of a facilities grant for roof repairs which were never executed.

• Source has other debts, the extent of which is unknown, as Source has so far refused to disclose them.

• DC has invested several thousand dollars in the Source's success over the years, in the form of grants and gifts.

What Could Happen:

There are at least three plans which could succeed in keeping the Source alive as a performance space. All of them would require a new party assuming Source's mortgage, resolving Source's debts, and taking over management of the facility at 1835 14th Street, NW.

Option 1 – A collective of arts groups bands together to make the Source a co-operative venture. So far one such interested group includes the In Series, Actors' Theatre of Washington, Latin American Folk Institute, and Washington Improv Theater.

Option 2 – The Cultural Development Corporation, the nonprofit organization that operates the Flashpoint arts incubator, assumes the operation and maintenance of the facility. CuDC has confirmed that they would be interested in exploring this option.

Option 3 – A single tenant theater/performance company takes over Source's debts and the facility. Washington Improv Theater may have capacity to explore this, but only after complete financial disclosure on the part of Source.

What Must Happen:

A dialogue. The Source has a fantastic opportunity to engage the arts community in finding a solution that resolves Source's outstanding debts and stabilizes the facility's management so that it can continue its legacy of fostering some of DC's most adventurous and innovative theater. On the other side of the table, the nice folks at Bedrock Companies have an opportunity to listen to the community where they wish to establish a business, and perhaps to understand why the Source is such an irreplaceable treasure for the city.

At a time when the city is investing in new theatre development citywide, we must urge you to invest equal energy in this venue's preservation. Please join in encouraging the Source and the Bedrock Companies to search for a solution to prevent the destruction of this vital, historic theater venue.

They can begin that search by engaging the community in an earnest and informative discussion of the Source's outstanding debts and circumstances—the discussion that was promised by Source when they initially closed their doors.

If you are unable to attend tomorrow evening's ANC meeting, please consider contacting the following, in addition to spreading the word on your neighborhood listservs and blogs, and writing letters to editors:

- Councilmember Jim Graham, 202.724.8181, jim@grahamone.com

- ANC-1B02 Commissioner Philip Spalding (who has reportedly expressed support for the sale), 202.986.5053, ANC1B02@PhilSpalding.us

- ANC-1B04 Commissioner Dee Hunter, 202.822.4529, DHunterlaw@aol.com

- Mayor Anthony Williams, 202.727.1000, http://dc.gov/atd/atd_askthemayor.asp.

Update: Save Our Source is "a blog for the grass-roots effort to restore and preserve the Source Theatre facility at 1835 14th Street, NW, as a vital cultural asset for the 14th and U Community."

Sign this online petition to "urge Bedrock Companies and the leadership of Source Theatre to stop the planned sale of Source Theatre's building at 1835 14th Street, NW, and to engage the neighborhood and the arts and funding communities in a dialog to craft a strategy to retain the Source's facility as a self-sustaining arts and performance hub in midtown."


  1. So, I'm still curious about why this place is so important. Are there not plenty of other theatres in the DC area? To save this black box theatre that has not been open for 2-3 years seems like a waste of time. It's not that old and not that happening. I love the arts ; I'm just not convinced. Convince me!

  2. Well, I definitely want to convince you, and I'm glad you're open to the possibility of being convinced. I went to the ANC-1B meeting last night and came away with a good deal of information...unfortunately, I'm at work right now and can't lay it all out in a post until later (perhaps not even until later this weekend). But do look for that, because I look forward to framing the post as a persuasive rather than simply informative piece.

    Long story short, yes, there are other theaters along the strip and spilling over into the U Street Corridor, but I posit they all serve different missions. One possibility for the future of the Source is a nonprofit collaborative b/w existing theater companies (see Option 1 in Mark Chalfant's letter) that do not currently have permanent space. WIT creates very different theater (with a very different mission) than In Series or the Actors' Theatre of Washington. They are all quite unique in their visions and missions.

    The space has been used by tenants in the last few years, and these tenants (some of whom are the interested parties in a possible collaborative) were not informed of the sale by the Source Board. The tenants were aware of the financial troubles, and some had offered this solution to them with no response from Source (this is what I've been told). To build a new black box theater for this collaborative will ultimately cost the the organizations, and the city (thus, the taxpayers) far more than utilizing an already viable space. Currently, "A Boston Marriage" (Actors' Theatre of Washington) is showing at Source. It's definitely "happening" and open.

    Finally, the community has expressed that Bedrock would be welcome to open a billiards establishment, just not at that location. 14th Street still has quite a bit of real estate available that truly is currently not in use. The possibility of promoting a "Theater District" could be a boon for the area. Sure, most of us love to go to bars, but that's really what DC has "plenty of."

  3. Nice answer and a bit convincing. Thank you very much for your responce!


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