In a move few in the local theater community expected, Empty Space Theatre will close immediately, the longtime Seattle theater's board...

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In a move few in the local theater community expected, Empty Space Theatre will close immediately, the longtime Seattle theater’s board of directors announced Friday.

After 36 years of operations and a recent move to a new, high-tech space at Seattle University, Empty Space could not raise the funds it needed to continue the 2006 season. The three-production 2007 season, announced earlier this month, also will be scrapped.

“We realized we had a lot of expenses coming up and we had no way of paying them down,” said Erik Blachford, chairman of the Empty Space board of directors. “It would have been irresponsible to go forward.”

“Forbidden Xmas,” a popular Christmas show, was up next.

“It won’t go on at Empty Space,” Blachford said, though that wouldn’t keep writer-director Richard Gray from taking the show to another theater.

Empty Space has had periodic financial problems in recent years. But many thought the company was on more secure footing after it moved into the $6.75 million Jeanne Marie and Rhoady Lee Jr. Center for the Arts in January and presented two well-received shows, “Bust” and “Louis Slotin Sonata.”

The theater-college connection was unique in Seattle; Empty Space shared facility costs but did not pay market-rate rent.

The board will refund subscribers and “take a look at” refunding donations intended for the 2007 season, Blachford said. All 2006 subscribers and ticket holders for “Forbidden Xmas” will be contacted by the theater; 2007 tickets had not gone on sale.

Artistic director Allison Narver expressed thanks to the “many subscribers, artist, volunteers, staff members, interns, and audience members who have supported us with such loyalty and passion for so many years,” she said in a news release sent Friday afternoon.

Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson contributed to this report.