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Arts Under Fire 

by Sheri Boggs

In American cinema of the 1940s, it seems that whenever someone was in dire financial straits or about to lose the farm, the solution was to rally everyone in the community for a heartwarming eleventh-hour save. Whether it was the big baskets of money brimming over for George Bailey at the end of It's a Wonderful Life or the completely implausible but charming "let's put on a show" enthusiasm of all those old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films, the community would suddenly realize the importance of something and gather together to save it.

Well, folks, Interplayers is relying on you to be that force for good right now. They need to raise $300,000 by July 31 or face having to close after more than two decades of professional theater in Spokane.

"What we've done for years is defer maintenance on the building to do production," says Robin Stanton, producing artistic director of Interplayers. "We put all of our money into what's going on onstage, and so now it's time to bring the rest of the building up to that same level."

The big question, of course, is why now? "We got in there a month or so ago and did a walk-through and we saw a lot of work that needed to be done," says Greg Hesse, marshall for the Spokane Fire Department. "We don't get into all the old buildings downtown all the time, but when we got into this building, we identified a lot of code issues that they weren't in compliance with."

Specifically, half the $300,000 will go into replacing the wiring and half toward installing a fire alarm, sprinkler and cooling and heating systems. Both the fire department and Stanton agree that the work must be done, and soon.

"When I first got here a year ago, I saw what needed to be done and the board [of directors] and I started work right away. At that time we had an electrical contractor walk through, we had estimates on the roof and had people come in and look at the ceiling issues we had in the house. So we began that process a year ago," she explains. "We intersected with the fire department about two months ago. They came down to do some permitting walk-throughs, and at that time I said, 'Look, I've got a book full of estimates and a lot of work that needs to be done on this building. Can you help us?' "

Walking through the lower regions of the 1922 structure, Stanton pauses to point out a jumble of uncapped wires jutting from the ceiling and then nods towards the original fire detection system, charred from a previous fire and sprouting dead wires. She says that in its 80-year history, the building has been used for various forms of entertainment -- from dance hall to tavern to theater.

Hesse says that he has worked with few organizations as eager to make the necessary changes as Interplayers has been. "You should have seen the basement when we were first there. It was absolutely jammed with combustibles. We returned three days later, and 90 percent of it was gone. We've been impressed with how hard and fast they're working."

The Fire Department gave Interplayers a three-part priority list. "We've already taken care of a third of that list," says Stanton, adding that the first section of improvements needed to be completed before their recent run of Visiting Mr. Green. "We've got two-thirds left to go, but the problem is that the remaining two-thirds is really expensive."

The final show of the season, The Final Twist, will open this Friday as scheduled, and Associate Artistic Director Michael Weaver says that inside the theater, the audience will be mostly unaware of the building's problems. "People aren't going to walk in here and see something that looks like Dresden after the Second World War," he says. "Structurally, the building is very sound."

Although she says "it's all over," when asked what happens if the money isn't raised on time, Stanton remains optimistic that Interplayers can meet its goal. After all, subscriptions are up 12 percent since her arrival. And after a private mailing to subscribers, they've already raised $12,000 and received many calls offering services pro bono. They also plan some fundraising events this summer.

"This is a theater that should live for a long time. This building has gone beyond emerging theater; it's become an institution," says Stanton. "If we can just get through this big push, we're going to be okay."

To make a tax-deductible donation, visit the theater at 174 S. Howard or call 455- PLAY.

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