Source Theatre Sale Delayed As Backers Try To Save Space

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 23, 2006

Having a stage where you can put on a show? Priceless.

That was the message yesterday during a dramatic, almost three-hour meeting in the office of D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), as theater activists at least temporarily derailed a plan to create a roughly $2 million endowment for small area theaters.

The endowment would have come from the sale of the Source Theatre's longtime home at 1835 14th St. NW, which is being bought by Bedrock Management for $2.8 million. The activists argued that the funds would be quickly dissipated and forgotten and that the artistic community would be better served by preserving the stage.

"There is no way to replace it for $2 million," said Carla Hubner, executive director of the In Series, which has been managing the Source space for several years.

As a result of the meeting, Hubner and others hoping to save the Source stage -- chief among them yesterday, the Actors' Theatre of Washington, the Cultural Development Corp. and Source producing director emeritus Pat Murphy Sheehy -- have until July 13 to submit alternative proposals to Graham's office.

Otherwise, the sale of the building to Bedrock will proceed to settlement July 24.

Source, which has no functioning staff, hasn't produced a full season since 2002. The company's debt is almost $600,000, not counting the back rent it owes the city -- between $330,000 and $700,000, a figure Graham pledged to pin down.

Yesterday's meeting quickly became a civil but tense showdown between Source's beleaguered board and the loose coalition trying to save the performance space.

After about two hours of back-and-forth, Source Chairman Peggy O'Brien said she was so weary of dealing with Source's problems and being the "scapegoat" that she'd happily elect a new board of her opponents.

"I may resign," she said. "Take it, have it, be responsible for it."

Graham urged calm and stability. "Now is not the time for chaos," he said.

Bedrock agreed to the three-week exploratory period, and the meeting ended with some ambiguity about how to proceed if legitimate proposals are submitted.

Several conditions were made clear: Bedrock would have to be "made whole" (i.e., paid the $35,000 it has invested in the process, plus the $40,000 it recently paid the IRS on Source's behalf); Source's outstanding debt must be dealt with; and proposals must include a three-year business plan to avoid what the Source board members characterized as simply substituting one struggling arts group for another.

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