Seattle’s Taproot Theatre Company Turns 40

The mid-size theater company sees more than 150,000 people annually through its many programs.

Forty years is a long time for a theater company to survive. Taproot Theatre Company has done just that, after six friends founded the company in 1976 during their senior year at what was then Seattle Pacific College. In the years since, they’ve created a lot of memories for theater-goers.

Pam Nolte, Taproot’s community liaison and one of the founders, recounted one particular story: “A woman came up [to me] and she said, ‘Did you play the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?’

“[That was] a long time ago. And I said ‘Yes, I did.’

“She said ‘My son’s with me tonight, and he was 5 years old when he saw that play. He just said to me, 'Mom, that’s the White Witch.’"

“So you know what goes into us at very, very young ages—the art of storytelling, it’s very primal. It’s why it’s always been, it’s why it will always be. It goes into our guts in ways that very little else does.”

Scott and Pam Nolte, co-founders of Taproot Theatre Company

In the beginning, Taproot's main stage traveled to wherever it could find a home, moving into the Greenwood building in 1996. But the company isn’t just the beautiful main stage. There is an acting studio and a touring component, which performs in schools, churches, libraries and military bases, in addition to programs at a psychiatric hospital for youth and classes for adults with early stage memory loss. 

“The touring work was the bedrock that actually built a lot of direct connections to pockets of audiences within a 60- to 90-mile radius,” said Scott Nolte, a co-founder who is the producing artistic director, president and CEO. “When it came time to turn on the lights and say ‘Here’s the sign, please come buy a ticket,’ there was actually a substantial number of people who already knew and trusted us.”

Today, the main stage draws 33,000-35,000 people a year with five shows plus a Christmas show in the regular season.

"Dracula" at the Taproot Theatre Company

Choosing a Lineup

Each season, Scott and his team consider a theme when selecting which works will be included. Other considerations include a mix of genres and the amount of time each production takes to produce and the theater’s mission to “brighten the spirit, engage the mind and deepen the understanding of the world around us while inspiring imagination, conversation and hope.”

The 40th anniversary season, said Scott, is a transition year of favorites and new works: “Half of them are celebrating the heritage and the legacy that those stories were and we have another few that we’re really looking forward to developing.”

The season kicks off Jan. 27 with “Silent Sky” the story of Henrietta Leavitt, who discovered the principle of light years. On March 23, “Cotton Patch Gospel” opens, a bluegrass musical Scott calls “an absolute delight.” A new comedic play, “The Realization of Emily Linder,” opens May 11, which tells the story of retired college professor Emily Linder who puts her daughters to work after learning the time of her death. The summer show, opening July 6, is “Big Fish.” Said Scott, “I think it’s a beautiful storytelling experience.” The final announced show premieres Sept. 21. “Joyful Noise,” the story of Handel’s “Messiah,” returns to Taproot. The sixth show for the 40th anniversary year, a Christmas show, is yet to be announced, but it is a favorite returning to the stage.

"Silent Sky" opens Taproot's 40th mainstage season

Visiting Taproot Theatre

Want to see a show? The Jewell Mainstage is an intimate theater with 226 seats—see every eye twitch, grimace and gesture. The Greenwood neighborhood (and Phinney Ridge, a few blocks to the south) have a number of places to dine, if you’d like to make a full night of it.

“It is a great walkable neighborhood with some really very, very good dining experiences,” said Scott. He named Naked City, a brew pub, The Olive and Grape for Mediterranean and Razzi’s, a local pizza-and-pasta favorite with extensive regular, vegan and gluten-free menus. Other options include Gorditos for massive burritos (their claim to fame is a baby-sized burrito) the recently opened sports bar and grill, The Lodge, and The Yard, a bar with tacos and sandwiches as well as a huge local beer selection.

“I think you can easily park once and have a fabulous meal, an interesting meal and see a great show in a more intimate setting,” said Pam.

 "The Whipping Man" at Taproot Theatre Company

Did they ever think Taproot would still be in Seattle, 40 years later?

“I don’t think we ever had a sense of, let’s do this for seven years and then get real jobs,” said Scott. “We never had an expiration date.”

Said Pam: “You don’t think like that in your 20s. You take hold of a dream and you just go.”

 

The theater's website has Taproot’s full season lineup, in addition to shows happening in the smaller Isaac Studio Theatre, ticketing information and more.