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Archdiocese boots second theater group

(Published June 5, 2000)


Staff Writer

Actors and producers at the GALA Hispanic Theater in Mount Pleasant are scrambling to try to keep their theater after receiving notice that their landlord, the Archdiocese of Washington, will not renew their lease at the end of the month. This is the second time in less than a year that the Catholic church has displaced a theater group in the District.

The theater’s directors have appealed to the archdiocese to extend the lease through the end of their 2001 season — the theater’s 25th anniversary season — or to at least give them until the end of December to move out. The theater has been told it must move out of its space at 1625 Park Road NW by June 30. The theater has rented performance, storage and office space from Sacred Heart School since 1984.

Managing director and co-founder Rebecca Read-Medrano said the theater group got a letter last year saying the lease would expire at the end of this month, but she said they fully expected to be able to renew for another four to eight years.

Read-Medrano said their lawyers told them last month that the archdiocese is not interested in renewing or extending their lease. She said they are now trying to get an extension for six months or a year in order to secure a new location.

"The GALA Theater was informed one year ago by the archdiocese that the lease would expire on June 30, 2000, and that the space would be renovated for the educational needs of the Latino children and adults served by Sacred Heart Parish and school," Bishop William E. Lori said in a statement.

Read-Medrano said the theater’s directors found out about the church’s renovation plans only after talking to school officials. She said the group was particularly upset because they had just replaced the building’s heating system two years ago, a major expense for a small theater group.

The GALA Hispanic Theater was founded in 1976 to bring bilingual theater to Washington as a way of preserving and promoting Latino culture in the District. Over the years, GALA — which stands for Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos — has won numerous theatrical awards and has staged productions in several countries including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba. GALA has also brought performers and stage troupes from all over Latin America to perform in the District.

The theater also launched Sol y Soul, a youth arts program for neighborhood children that teaches arts as an alternative to drugs and gang violence.

Last year, the archdiocese displaced the Washington Stage Guild when it chose to renovate Carroll Hall in the 900 block of G Street NW to turn it into office space for Catholic Charities. The guild, which now shares space at the Source Theater on 14th Street NW, had performed at Carroll Hall for 95 years.

As part of the Catholic Charities project, the archdiocese wants to tear down all but the facades of the last of the low-density business district townhouses on F Street. The townhouses also contain the last working artists’ studios in the historic downtown arts district. Approval of that project is currently being appealed in D.C. Superior Court.

Read-Medrano said that the stage troupe has looked into leasing at least four other locations but has so far been unsuccessful in finding a new location.

"We don’t want to leave D.C. because our funding is here," she said. "Our audience comes from all over the area but our heart is here."

She said the group is disappointed the church is unwilling to work with the theater during the renovations, particularly since GALA had renovated so much of the space during their tenancy.

"That was very surprising that they didn’t come to us to try to work with us," she said.

She said the theater will continue performing somewhere, but expressed disappointment at losing their theater of 16 years.

"We’re not going to cancel our 25th anniversary season, that’s for sure," she said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator