Space 55 Theater prepares for first show at new location

Space 55 theater, previously located at 636 E. Pierce St. (pictured), recently moved to a new location at 1524 North 18th Ave. (Brigid Fegeley/DD)
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Space 55 theatre, once a quirky downtown staple, has officially moved and is preparing for its first show in its new location.

For twelve seasons, Space 55 Theatre has brought underappreciated and original theater to light at their space on Pierce St. until they decided to pack their bags and move to 1524 North 18th Ave.

University of Arizona bought several buildings downtown including the theatre in September, and Space 55 had already announced its closure previously. The university has not announced any plans for the space.

The black box theater in which Space 55 originated was originally a dry cleaner’s located at 636 E. Pierce Street. The theater’s founder, Shawna Franks, originally began the theater with a group of actors partaking in readings at her home in 2006.

A couple years later Franks was able to obtain the dry cleaner’s property and transform it into an intimate black box theater by building a stage and placing chairs inside. Her goal was to create a cutting edge theater, different than other theaters in Phoenix at the time. She wanted it to be affordable and community centered, as opposed to large theaters, where she said you end up “taking your seat, and then when the play’s over, you get in your car and go home.”

Franks wasn’t directly involved in the move, but she said, “I’d known it was going to be happening for a while, that that space was going to be a problem; it’s kind of been a problem for years, but it wasn’t until we found out that they were selling it that we knew we had to get out.” While Franks wasn’t able to be involved, she feels that “it’s great that they’re getting a new space”.

For twelve years, the original space served its purpose. In the 2017 season alone, there were more than 40 shows. However, problems that plagued the theater, such as no air conditioning. In mid-September, following the sale of the property to University of Arizona’s medical school, there were talks with another property in which Space 55 could move into. About six weeks later, on the evening of Nov. 1, the ensemble of Space 55 got together with a rented truck and made six round trips from the Pierce St. location to the new 18th Ave. location.

In the three weeks following the official move, artistic director Duane Daniels said that the most challenging part of the move was the period of time where shows weren’t being produced or performed which meant almost no money coming in. The first show to open at the new space, “A Bloody Mary Christmas,” is slated to open on the evening of Nov. 24 and run until December 30.

With the opening on Friday, Daniels said it’s crunch time at the theater.

“We’re trying not to overlook any small details. We’re just trying to make sure that we’re ready for the performances,” Daniels said.

Overall, Daniels said he’s not at all sad to no longer be at the Pierce street location. While it has the same capacity of 49 people, the theater itself is larger. Additionally, Daniels said the lobby is roomy and comfortable, the air-conditioning can actually keep the space cool and there is an improvement with the backstage area.

“It’s an all-around upgrade,” Daniels said.

The first showing of “A Bloody Mary Christmas” is scheduled for Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. More information on upcoming shows can be found at space55.org.

Contact the reporter at bfegeley@asu.edu.

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