So I’m sitting at the coffee shop at 6:10, when a prayer request from one of the women at church comes across my desktop. Something about a 3-alarm fire near 85th and Greenwood, and that my good friend Scott Nolte is being interviewed. It takes a minute to register. I go to KING 5 News’ website, and there’s a notice about the fire, along with a picture.
I called Anjie, and headed out.
Taproot is a kind of home to me, a place, an ensemble that has given me more opportunities to work than I deserve, and I have such great respect for their longevity, their resilience, and their mission. Artistic Director Scott Nolte and I get burgers regularly, I go to church with Associate Artistic Director Karen Lund, her Taproot Scenic Designer/Tech Director husband Mark Lund, Costume Designer Sarah Gordon, and others that work there. I’m just an actor, but I wanted to be there with and for them.
There were fire trucks everywhere, and the first thing I noticed as I approached the neighborhood was the smell of smoke. I pulled into the Fred Meyer parking lot, called Scott, found out he was in the Gorditos parking lot across from the theatre, stepped over a couple of yellow-tape barriers, and found Scott, his wife Pam, and their actor-son Peter all standing there looking across at the space.
Pho Tic Tac, the Green Bean, and the other two restaurants to the east of Taproot were gutted, black holes in the side of the old brick building. A water cannon high above 85th was pouring cascades of water onto the roofs, concentrating on an area close to Taproot. Soon water could be seen dripping from the ceiling in the lower lobby, and we watched at one point as a firefighter took an axe to one of the walls in the upper lobby. Insulation from the ceiling soon started appearing on the stairs and pretty soon it looked as if it had snowed in a couple of places.
The only flames I saw erupted at the eastern edge of the building, down near the Teriyaki place, a place where I’ve eaten countless times. The firefighters’ response to those flames was calm and even, which made sense to me given the amount of water they were pouring onto the place.
Our quiet conversation touched on the small business owners whose livelihood had literally gone up in flames. It’s a testament to the heart of Taproot that this seemed to be the major concern. Another topic was where to perform three sold-out performances of Enchanted April. It looked as if it was pretty certain that while the theatre itself had escaped the fire, there was sufficient damage to keep the play from happening in that space tonight and tomorrow. (No official word has come at this hour, so if you’re reading this, and you have tickets, stay tuned.) Concerns of next steps, figuring out logistics for a touring company performance for a school scheduled for the afternoon (all the props and costumes were in the basement, status unknown), memories of other crises that have been a part of the Taproot Theatre tapestry over the years…the talk was quiet, thoughtful, hopeful. Perhaps Pam Nolte said it best as she talked to a friend. Citing her usual realist approach to things, she said “In crisis, I’m an optimist.”
And there was prayer. A prayer request is how I found out about the situation, and I would bet nearly as many people found out through prayer request channels as did through news channels. God has been extremely faithful to this band of people over the 30 years of their existence, and their faith (and mine) is that He will continue to do so.
There was nothing to do, really, at that time of day, but stand and watch. Eventually, gray light replaced the dark, and the gathered Taproot staff left the Bartell’s parking lot and headed to the Administrative offices down the street to come up with a game plan. I had a sermon to finish up (I’m preaching Sunday–the new guy is out of town), so I headed to the car. That’s when the rain started in earnest.
Say a prayer for the whole block. Some have lost their livlihoods, and the Green Bean, a non-profit ministry/outreach, has lost its opportunity to provide a third-place for so many Greenwood patrons. Greenwood has a lot going for it, and this now-gutted building was a part of it.
For a report from an earlier perspective, along with some video from the fire, see PhinneyWood.com.