After 15 years in its current Eureka location, the small and beloved community playhouse Redwood Curtain Theatre (RCT) is soon losing its longtime home at 220 First Street, which is in the process of being sold to a new owner.
“We have some news to share that is hard to hear,” the theater’s board posted on Facebook on Tuesday. “Our building that we have occupied for the past 15 years is in escrow with another owner and expects to close by June 30, 2023. The new owner has plans for the building that do not include us.”
Suzy Hendry, board director for RCT, told the Outpost that the theater staff and board have known about the planned sale since the beginning of this year and have already been searching for a new space. But they didn’t think that the building would sell so quickly, and had hoped they would at least have a couple more years.
Hendry said that she didn’t feel that she could divulge the name of the buyer or what the plans are for the space, since nothing is completely set in stone yet. But as stated above, apparently the plans are for something new in the space, and the buyer did not want to extend a lease for the theater. Hendry added that the current landlady Marilyn Andrews has always been very generous to Redwood Curtain. “And we certainly understand her need to sell it,” she said.
Again, the board and staff had just hoped that it would take more time to sell, and that they would at least be able to finish out their season, which Hendry said included four plays that they were very excited about. The theater just wrapped up its run of Bull in a China Shop and is currently holding rehearsals for The Book of Will, which will open on April 21 and run for four weekends.
Ruthi Engelke, who is directing The Book of Will, has acted, directed and taught at RCT for more than five years. Engelke told the Outpost that RCT was the first local theater that “really felt like home” to her when she moved to Humboldt.
“[The theater is] small, intimate and usually does plays that are socially relevant, which is what I really like,” Engelke said in a phone interview. “It’s the kind of theater I’m interested in doing and seeing, so it makes me sad that that’s not going to be there.”
As soon as the upcoming show is finished, Hendry said, the breaking-down and packing-up of the space will begin, and it is going to be a pretty big undertaking. The building was completely empty when RCT began leasing it, so all of the theater seating, the stage, the sets and the lights will need to be removed and, most likely, put into storage until a new space is found.
And Hendry is worried that finding a new space might take a lot of time. When RCT left its previous space at the backside of the Eureka Mall in 2006, it took four years to find the building the theater is in now. The theater has pretty specific needs for its space – it needs to be roughly between 2,400 and 4,000 square feet in size, and the ceilings need to be at least 16 feet high.
Since the theater is a nonprofit organization, it also has a pretty tight budget and has still not recovered financially from the shutdowns due to COVID. Hendry said that the theater was just starting to get back on its feet and now losing the space, which was a very good deal, comes as a big blow. With rental rates on the rise in Humboldt, the theater will need to find someone willing to lease their space for lower than the market rate, which Hendry knows will make the search even more difficult.
Still, Hendry is hopeful that something will work out and says that the community and other theaters have already been very helpful. The last time the theater had no home, several other local theaters let RCT stage productions and Hendry suspects that is something they will do again.
For those interested in helping out RCT during this difficult time, the theater is looking for all kinds of assistance – a theater space (of course), financial donations, storage space, help tearing down and packing up, transportation. Hendry said RCT is also open to creative suggestions for how to keep doing what they do. To volunteer whatever resource you have, you can follow this link to fill out a short form and someone will contact you very soon.
Of course, another great way to support the theater is by going to see its upcoming show. Engelke said that The Book of Will, which focuses on two actors trying to preserve the works of William Shakespeare, has some unbelievably relevant themes. The play touches on the importance of theater and the catharsis that it provides. The play even contains a part about a theater closing and the characters going to some pretty extreme lengths to keep it open.
Hendry wanted to thank everyone for their continuing support of RCT, a theater that she feels plays an important role in our community.
“We feel that Redwood Curtain Theatre offers some very diverse and inclusive types of productions that other theaters typically don’t offer,” Hendry said. “We feel very strongly that we’ve found a niche over the last 23 years…So we really want to continue that. Our board really wants to make it work and we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”