It’s hard to weigh the impact of the small Keegan Theatre company’s purchase of the Church Street Theater without first doing some, well, “bathroom math.”
The theater seats 117, and lately it’s generally been pretty full. Keegan’s popular production of the musical “The Full Monty,” which closed this month, had a cast of 18, plus a handful of musicians. The 1905 building features only what Realtors call two “half baths” for everyone’s satisfaction.
“Intermissions have been lasting half an hour,” laments Keegan producing artistic director Mark Rhea during a tour of the cramped quarters.
Upgrading is not why Keegan bought the theater, a two-story brick structure that easily fits on its quiet side street just east of Dupont Circle. But the prospect of better plumbing has the troupe pumped.
Indeed, there is a lot of cash to be raised for the $1.5 million in renovations Keegan has planned. That’s a big lift for a non-Equity organization without a fundraiser or managing director, with only two full-time staffers and with an annual budget of only a half-million dollars a year. An anonymous donor bought the theater for $1.9 million in a deal that closed June 21 — Rhea’s birthday.
Max Berry, a lawyer and former chairman of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, had bought the building in 1988…Church Street was largely a rental house until Keegan became the full-time tenant in 2009.
Mark Rhea says the latest terms of occupancy for Keegan included $5,000 a month in rent, plus another $10,000 monthly in expenses to run the building. The bulk of Keegan’s income is drawn from ticket sales, with tickets moderately priced at $35 for plays and $40 for musicals.
The Rheas think Keegan’s recent success boils down to two factors. “Residency,” Mark says — a fixed address so the public can identify an organization and settle in. The second thing: “I started listening to my audience.”
Keegan hopes to shut down for only six months next year during the proposed renovations, which will feature new dressing rooms, rehearsal space and a classroom, all underground. And about the bathrooms: There will be a total of seven (five for the public, two backstage).
[Company Member Kerri]Rambow suggests there is a family spirit that has pulled Keegan this far and will keep it pushing forward. “We all work together, play together and fight together like a group of brothers, sisters and parents,” she says.
Mark Rhea uses the same terms. Waving his arm rather humbly at the chaos inside Keegan’s theater, he says, “I didn’t think I could have a family this big.”