Two years after Teatro ZinZanni ditched its plans for a permanent home in Woodinville due to financial struggles, the cirque-comedy-cabaret show will return to Seattle this fall.
Starting mid-November, Teatro ZinZanni will have a three-month stint in Sodo Park, a historic factory-turned-event space in the Sodo neighborhood. Catering company Herban Feast, which runs the venue, will provide the dinner. The show, which puts an end to the longest Seattle has been without Teatro ZinZanni since its founding in 1998, is themed “coming home.”
“Seattle has always been our home,” said Teatro ZinZanni’s co-founder Norm Langill. “It’s what people really crave. Now, we all want to come home to a safe place, to a place where we feel that we can restart our lives.”
The show will be classic ZinZanni, Langill said, declining to divulge any more details about the cast or the performances. “We’re not suddenly going to change. We are going to be what people expect us to be, only higher quality, funnier.”
For its new show, Langill said the company plans to employ about 75 people, hiring back many of its veteran performers and other key staff. In March 2020, Teatro ZinZanni laid off 135 employees and used a $1 million Paycheck Protection Program loan to sustain operations with a staff of five.
In September 2020, Langill closed the Woodinville site, citing financial hardships worsened by the pandemic. Langill and co-owner Jane Langill had moved Teatro ZinZanni to the old Redhook Brewery in Woodinville in 2018 from a temporary location in Redmond’s Marymoor Park, and opened an upscale, stand-alone restaurant in the old Redhook Brewery.
The show was doing fine, but the restaurant not so much, Norm Langill said in 2020. Then the pandemic hit, killing the market for live performance, the Langills said.
David Yuchasz, one of the landlords at the Woodinville site and an investor in the theater company, which is formally known as TZ Woodinville, told The Seattle Times in September 2020 that TZ Woodinville had stopped making lease and loan payments after June and owed nearly a million dollars to a list of vendors.
In October 2020, Yuchasz and several other investors in TZ Woodinville filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court accusing Langill of diverting funds intended to be used for the company to instead pay his personal debts and for other non-company purposes. Langill’s diversions, the lawsuit says, “led to company shortfalls, including an unpaid contractor owed approximately $800,000 who had performed renovations on the premises.”
The lawsuit also claims Langill misrepresented TZ Woodinville’s assets and liabilities when requesting a $1 million loan from Crosby 2 LLC, a 15% owner of TZ Woodinville, around October 2019. Despite TZ Woodinville’s guarantee that the loan would be used to pay vendors still owed money, “a substantial portion of the $1 million loan was used to pay the Langills’ personal debts, and for other unapproved purposes,” according to the lawsuit.
A settlement was reached in March this year, but details of the settlement were not disclosed. Yuchasz, and some other plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment.
Langill didn’t comment specifically on the lawsuit’s allegations but said in a statement that “the pandemic was a catastrophe for all theatre companies in America. Teatro ZinZanni was no exception. We were able to, over time, resolve the situation with the landlord to our mutual agreement, and the case was dismissed in court. We overcame the odds facing our restart in Seattle due to our tenacity, our personal resources and our commitment to the arts community here over the past 50 years.”
Seattle fans have followed Teatro ZinZanni for nearly 25 years at multiple locations, from a former Cadillac dealership in Belltown to a long-term spot in Lower Queen Anne, a temporary stay at Marymoor Park and then the Woodinville site. The Sodo show is a prelude to a more permanent, full-time show that Langill hopes to open next year.
Seattle “is a really smart audience and very clever, so it inspires us to have clever humor and to explore,” Langill said. “They’ll go along with us anywhere, which is wonderful.”
For the new show, Langill says Teatro ZinZanni will have to relearn what the audience is wanting after its time away: “It’s a new world out there.”
In its time away from Seattle, Teatro ZinZanni continued to produce its show in Chicago, which will wrap up its two-year stint in August. The company is also part of a waterfront development project in San Francisco, where it has had a show before. The plan is for a permanent venue attached to a hotel, opening hopefully in the next three years, Langill said.