Early Sunday morning, July 10, the offices of Seattle Shakespeare Company were flooded. A pipe burst, and sink water mixed with soda, coffee and grease from two restaurants poured down into the theatre company’s offices, turning them into a stenchy swamp.
Before the break was discovered, the water flooded in for hours. Water levels on the carpeted floor reached an inch and half, having traveled 50 feet through walls and under doors.
Seattle Center workers scrambled that morning to stop the water flow and move what they could off the floor to higher ground. But by that time, much of the equipment was waterlogged, pouring down through the kitchen, communications office, development office, the IT area, the production office and the education office. Computers, power strips, boxes and anything porous were absorbing water.
Jeff Fickes, the company’s Director of Communications, offers an apt comparison.
“If you were to take your living room, kitchen and bedroom where you spend a lot of time, now imagine a burst pipe leaking for hours,” he said. “Now imagine an inch and half of water on the floor. Now imagine your reaction.”
Obviously, such an incident caught them off guard.
“We were all busy with other projects, but we had to drop whatever we were doing to find out what we needed to keep, throw away or store,” Fickes said. “The smell was awful. Because of the stench and the dampness, we could only be in the space for two or three hours before we had to come up for air.”
SSC was able to salvage some of the archives, but not all, especially paper-based items. The work goes on. Carpets are being ripped up, and then the floor boards under them. And this is only the beginning. The bigger damage will require demolition and renovation. Some of the walls will have to come down, and they still haven’t determined the extent of the electrical damage. Insurance will cover much of the cost, but there are still a lot of unknowns. It took three days to access the extent of the damage and come up with a plan. The company had to be temporarily relocated. Luckily, the theater was unharmed, along with their stock of costumes. Their office space was situated in one of Seattle Center’s original buildings, dating back to 1940. Originally, it was a National Guard Armory, and was also used for the “Food Circus” at the 1962 World’s Fair. Rumor has it that the building was sold to The City of Seattle for a pittance, and in the 1970s, was renamed the Center House.
“Over the years we’ve had several leaks in our offices ranging from minor drips to severe sludge,” said Managing Director John Bradshaw. “But this is by far the worst water damage ever.”
But the show must go on. Some staff members are working from home, while others are working in the office. SSC’s “Camp Bill” is up and running on schedule, as are free Shakespeare in the Park productions presented by Wooden O — a tragedy, “Hamlet” and a comedy, “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
A couple of facts about these two plays. The first-ever performance of “Hamlet” occurred on July 26, 1602. And move over “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” “Love’s Labour’s Lost” contains the longest word in any of Shakespeare’s plays: honorificabilitudinitatibus. It means “with honorablenesses.”
If you miss them at the parks, you can see both productions back-to-back at Seattle Center on July 31 at 2 p.m. (“Hamlet”) and 6 p.m. (Love’s Labour’s Lost”) .The productions are free and take place on the lawn at Fisher Pavilion.
Seattle Shakespeare Company, a jewel in Seattle’s theater crown, celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year. The company has presented hundreds of the Bard’s plays as well as classics, among others, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Berthold Brecht.
Be assured. The 2016-2017 theater season will open as planned with “A Winter’s Tale” (part psychological drama/part comedy) on Sept. 7 at the Leo K. Theatre. Other productions include Euripides’ “Medea” (October), “Bring Down the House,” a two-part adaptation of the Bard’s “Henry VI” trilogy with an all-female cast (mid-January to mid-March 2017) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (May 2017).
Meanwhile, friends and neighbors are lending their support with contributions. The Solo Bar is doing a fundraiser July 31 and August 1, and will donate 50 percent of their sales on those days.
“It may take a long time to know the full cost of the damage,” Bradshaw said. “It is clearly a challenging time. If you can make a monetary contribution to help us through it, we’d appreciate it. No amount is too small.”
Fickes said the outpouring of support has been welcome.
“People have sent notes with donations, which have been quite touching,” Fickes said. “One woman wrote, “My hours at work have been reduced and I’m on a tight budget, but I wanted to make a contribution.”
It’s like the Bard said all those centuries ago, “All’s well that ends well.”
Donations to Seattle Shakespeare Company can be made online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.
Or by mail, Seattle Shakespeare Company, P.O. Box 19595, Seattle, WA 98109.