Michael Harthorne
On Jan. 27, audiences will be returning to the Taproot Theatre building for the first time since an October arson attack forced it to close for repairs.

Audiences return to Taproot Theatre

Slightly more than three months ago, a fire started at the Green Bean Coffee House burned down the Eleanor Roosevelt Building and damaged the neighboring Taproot Theatre.

Audiences will be returning to the theater at 204 N. 85th St. for the first time since the arson that necessitated its gutting when Taproot previews C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" Jan. 27.

"It's pretty darn extraordinary," said Scott Nolte, Taproot Theatre's producing artistic director. "We're going to do a show, and it's near miraculous."

Nolte said 99.9 percent of the public areas of Taproot are complete.

The box office and concessions areas were remodeled and rearranged. Workers were pulling plastic off the theater's seats and wiping them down hours before audiences would be arriving.

The first goal was to get the theater ready to go, Nolte said. Taproot's basement still needs a lot of work and remains unused except for the dressing rooms, he said.

During the three months the Taproot Theatre building was unusable, it put on a Christmas show at North Seattle Community College and its other operations, such as the touring Road Company, continued with little disruption seen by the public.

Nolte said the resolve of the staff was amazing. No one wanted to miss a beat, he said.

The Road Company got into the building at noon after the fire to get the things it needed to put on a show that afternoon, he said.

"The staff locked arms and said, 'We will do whatever it takes,'" he said.

Nolte said he and the rest of Taproot's staff are exhausted but excited to get the theater open.

The opening weekend of "The Great Divorce" is sold out, and Taproot Theatre subscriptions are at an all-time high, Nolte said.

"The early part of 2010 has got me feeling pretty good," he said.

Taproot Theatre owned the Eleanor Roosevelt Building, which is now just a vacant lot. The theater had planned to use the building for a new theater, classrooms and costume and scene shops.

Nolte said now is not the time to start on an expensive rebuilding project, so Taproot is looking at interim options for the land that won't leave an empty hole in the middle of Greenwood.

"We're trying to think out of the box on it," he said.

In the meantime, Nolte said he is ready to be done with reconstruction for at least the next 15 years and wants to get back to the crazy day-to-day life of running a theater.

After previews Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, "The Great Divorce" officially premieres Jan. 29 and runs through Feb. 27.

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