Portland's theater community reeled Friday, after hearing news
about Southeast Belmont Street’s venerable Theater! Theatre! shutting its doors this summer. In a city with few mid-size venues, the two-auditorium building has long been a bustling theatrical hub.
But after Profile Theatre
and Theatre Vertigo
announced that landlord Veerinder Chawla would not be renewing their leases, which end June 30, Chawla told WW
that there may be room for renegotiation. He met with representatives from each company on Sunday, Feb. 10. “It’s based on discussions that are underway,” Chawla said. “There’s a chance that Theater! Theatre! will stay open.”
Today, Don Horn, Triangle Productions
managing director and former owner of the building, announced that he and Chawla would convene an open forum on Saturday, Feb. 23 to discuss the fate of the building. That meeting will be held at 2 pm at the Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.
Yet Profile and Vertigo (which shares its lease with Fuse Theatre Ensemble
) aren’t so optimistic.
“I don’t think he’s of a mind to renegotiate," said Profile board member Paul Duden. "He might be saying things like he’s willing to do that, but I don’t think he’s serious.”
Vertigo company member Mario Calcagno agreed: “It was kind of a backwards meeting. I think there was urgency to talk because of the press coverage, but there was nothing concrete that came out of it.”
Beyond rent—which no one involved would yet disclose, but which Chawla said is below market-rate—there are other issues. Chawla, who has owned the building since 2005, has complaints about Profile making at least four late rent payments in that time. (Something verified by managing director Matthew Jones.) He also mentioned instances in which the building had been left unlocked and unattended. Calcagno confirmed that this has been an occasional problem with some of the performers who have sub-rented from Vertigo and Profile, but he added that the Theater! Theatre! building also houses other offices.
Chawla first notified the companies in December that their leases might not be renewed. According to Profile artistic director Adriana Baer, Chawla said he intended to use the space as storage for his business the Tao of Tea
, which operates a teahouse in the same building. Chawla now declines to identify his plans for the space. But when Profile and Vertigo contacted Chawla to negotiate, he didn’t respond. On January 30, both companies received registered letters that their leases would not be renewed.
“It’s really sad for the community to lose two venues on the Eastside,” said Baer on Friday. “We don’t have so many over here.” She noted that while the building is a permanent home for Profile, Vertigo and Fuse, many other companies and artists also rent space there. Vertigo and Profile’s press releases listed nearly three dozen companies that have performed in the building since it opened in 1994.
Though both Profile and Vertigo said they are open to negotiations with Chawla, they’re looking for new venues. All agree the pickings are slim. Profile’s space at Theater! Theatre! sits 99 and Vertigo’s auditorium seats about 130—Portland has few other venues that size. Baer tossed out a few names—the Headwaters, Shoe Box Theater, CoHo Theater, Back Door Theater—but noted that none of these venues are as flexible as Profile’s current black-box space.
“My hope is that the community of Portland will be inspired by this challenge to think big about what we could do to support the smaller theaters in town, by starting a conversation about venues,” Baer said. “That’s really important. We have a number of arts organizations who are going to need support right now.”