After more than 17 years as a small, boundary-pushing home for local actors, lesser-known plays and emerging playwrights, 2nd Street Theater will soon go dark. Its 4,458-square-foot home at 220 NE Lafayette Ave. in Bend is being sold.
The impending January run of the one-woman show “Grounded,” starring Kit Foreman, is the last production on 2nd Street’s schedule.
Maralyn Thoma, owner of 2nd Street Theater, said she’d been kicking around the idea of selling the building since June, and in the fall, the building quietly went up for sale at an asking price of $789,000. The sale is in escrow, with a scheduled closing date of Jan. 31, Thoma said.
Meanwhile, locals such as playwright Cricket Daniel are reeling at the impending closure.
“It became a venue for people like me, for independent producers, for playwrights,” she said. “That’s what I feel is the best part about 2nd Street Theater, and such a huge loss.”
Thoma and then-husband Steve Dougherty moved to Bend in 1995, when she was writing for the daytime soap opera “Passions.” They and a third partner, Janet Kingsley, opened the theater from scratch, kicking off the first season Nov. 2, 2001, with a collection of one-act plays and scenes from longer shows titled “Short Stuff,” followed by “A Tuna Christmas” before the year was out.
In subsequent seasons, 2nd Street became known for its willingness to experiment. Premieres included three plays by New York playwright Michael Slade, the romantic comedy “Garden Politics,” followed by the companion pieces “Christmas” and “New Year’s Eve.”
Recession and rebirth
This is not the first time 2nd Street has been up for sale. In mid-2008, after she’d retired from writing for “Passions,” Thoma announced that the theater would have a shortened 2008-09 season.
In November 2009, Thoma, the final founding partner remaining at 2nd Street, said the theater had never operated in the black and would be closing its doors at the end of that calendar year at the conclusion of the play “Harvey.” The asking price for the theater was $675,000.
Around this time, Daniel’s first play, “Couple Dating,” premiered in Klamath Falls.
An actress before she was a playwright, Daniel had appeared in early 2nd Street shows such as “A Tuna Christmas.” She began writing plays after she became a stay-at-home mom in 2004. When she pitched “Couple Dating” to 2nd Street Theater and Cascades Theatrical Company for consideration as part of their regular seasons, both declined, she said.
Not so, Linkville Playhouse in Klamath Falls, where Maralyn Thoma attended a performance of Daniel’s play. When Thoma told Daniel “Couple Dating” should come to 2nd Street Theater, Daniel agreed.
“I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, I approached you, and nobody was interested, and now you’re closed,’” Daniel said. “But you know what? The building was there. There were no buyers in sight.”
Back in Bend, Thoma and Daniel sat in Black Bear Diner on nearby Third Street and discussed what it would take for Daniel to self-produce her play.
“That seems to be a dime a dozen these days, but at the time, that was very unheard of,” Daniel said. “We walked away that day saying, You know what? Let’s give this a try. What’s to lose, really, other than all my money? Her theater was dark anyway.”
“Couple Dating” opened in April 2010, stirring controversy with its political incorrectness, but performing well.
“Maralyn and I both made money. At that point, she’s like, ‘Wow, maybe I can keep doing this until I sell it,’” Daniel said.
Over the next few months, independent productions such as the drama “The Rainmaker” in early 2011 and the edgy drama “Bug” in fall 2011, came to the 2nd Street stage. In the years that followed, a spot was reserved on the 2nd Street schedule for Daniel to debut a new play.
Having other producers put on shows at the theater resulted in a rebirth of 2nd Street. Sandy Klein and her husband, Gregory Michael Thoma, son of Maralyn Thoma, formed the nonprofit Stage Right Productions in December 2011 to run the 93-seat theater.
The change led to several more seasons, with Stage Right sometimes producing plays with other area theater companies. Comedy troupes such as Bend Improv Group used the space on a regular basis. Bend actor, director and playwright Clinton Clark premiered some of his plays there, including 2016’s “The Beatles Die on Tuesday,” and the recent “A PC Thanksgiving,” written in collaboration with Cayla Clark.
“That became 2nd Street Theater,” Daniel said. “They would throw in four shows that maybe they produced, and then, it was people like me coming in, or Clint Clark coming in. It got really exciting.”
Deciding to sell
Thoma said there were a few factors in deciding to sell the building, including an incoming business between the theater and neighboring Platypus Pub, she said.
“It’s an indoor coffee shop and drive-thru, and the traffic is going to be going two ways right where we park our cars,” she said. “It’s going to be a year of construction and mess.”
Additionally, daughter-in-law Klein, a professional artist and co-owner of Bits & Pieces Custom Picture Framing in Bend, could use a break from long workdays, Thoma said.
“She’s been doing all of this work for so long,” Thoma said. “She was ready to quit, ready to give herself a break, and it doesn’t matter to me. I mean, it matters, but you know, I haven’t been running it. It’s been Sandy who’s been doing all the hard work.”
Thoma said another deciding factor was her son’s legal troubles. In September, Gregory Michael Thoma was arrested after allegedly meeting up with a juvenile at the child’s residence and committing multiple sex crimes, according to Bulletin archives. He faces multiple charges, including three counts of first-degree online sexual corruption of a child, two counts of luring a minor, six counts of second-degree sexual abuse, three of third-degree sodomy and one of third-degree rape.
A plea hearing is scheduled for March 8.
“It’s going to be very interesting when and if they get to trial,” Maralyn Thoma said. “There’s a whole other side of the story that nobody knows.”
Her son’s legal situation was “part of the reason, not the whole reason” she decided to sell 2nd Street, Thoma said.
“As I said, we’d been talking about doing it for a long time, but … when that happened with Greg, some of the actors that were in the show that they were doing at the time didn’t want to be around him, didn’t want him coming to the theater,” Thoma said, referring to “The Addams Family.” “Sandy said, ‘Look, I can’t do this without him. And I don’t want to do this without him, so let’s just sell it.’”
Actor, producer and director Scott Schultz has been involved with the theater since 2012. He’s acted in shows including “Evil Dead the Musical” and directed shadow casts of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” so the theater’s closure affects him.
“Of course, I’m sad,” he said.
“There really isn’t a venue to help new artists hone in on their skills and abilities, and kind of give them that first step and holding hands through the first couple of productions just to allow people the ability to slowly learn everything that comes with putting a show together,” Schultz said. “From picking it, producing it, finding backers, having strategy on how to sell the show to casting it to tech week.
Daniel believes the timing of the sale is right.
“With the market the way it is, it’s good timing. Of course, it may have been moved along a little big quicker because of what’s going on around the theater,” she said. “I’m not shocked. … I knew it was coming down the pike eventually.”
Klein said she plans to soldier on with Stage Right.
“It’s like the old saying goes: One door closes, another one opens,” Klein said, adding that supporters of the theater have been understanding.
“They know how hard I’ve worked, and it may be the end of an era, but it’s also going to be the beginning of something else,” Klein said.
She has plans to resurrect ever-popular “Evil Dead the Musical” in October 2019. The blood will just have to splatter in some other venue.
She believes that with the theater knowledge she’s accumulated, she could be of help to other producers or of assistance in getting a performing arts center off the ground in Bend.
“I’ve heard so many people talking about it for so many years,” Klein said.
Meanwhile, Daniel wonders where new playwrights, producers and companies might land after the shuttering of 2nd Street. In the years since she began debuting an annual play at 2nd Street, Daniel has gone on to see her shows produced out of state. Her recent comedy “The Lost Virginity Tour” will be staged in Santa Clara, California, in February, one year after it had its world premiere at 2nd Street Theater.
“That has been my playground — literally, I call it my sandbox — forever. That’s going to be a huge loss. I’ll be OK, but other producers, other playwrights (are) scrambling,” Daniel said.
Her family’s auto repair business, Daniel Automotive, is next door to 2nd Street.
“We’ve shared a wall with them for 14 (years),” she said. “It’s going to be weird looking over there and not seeing the crazy theater crowd smoking out front, and all the audiences coming in, and Maralyn and Sandy and everybody. It’s just going to be very weird for me personally.”
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