An old grain silo in Moscow, Idaho, has been converted into a live theater space.
MOSCOW, Idaho — David Harlan has taken the concept of theater-in-the-round to the next level. He’s converted an old grain silo in this college town into a live theater space.
Harlan has put on a successful production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in this unique theater, and more plays will be staged in the cavernous space this summer.
“There were a lot of people excited about seeing theater in a silo last summer,” Harlan said. “It is an atmosphere that inspires awe and wonder.”
The gray metal silo is more than 100 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter. The silos are on the edge of downtown Moscow, population 18,000 and home to the University of Idaho, in an area otherwise dominated by coffee shops, bookstores and other college essentials.
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The complex of seven unused silos has long been considered an eyesore in town, and there have been plans to tear them all down.
Harlan, a former theater instructor at the university, had been talking with the owner of the silos, who wanted to convert them into retail and art space. Harlan decided to take a chance on the largest of them, known as “Tank 41.”
“Last spring we decided to do this,” Harlan said. “I committed to building a theater company around this space and our first show was last summer.”
That show was Shakespeare’s last play “The Tempest,” staged with an all-female cast by what is known as Moscow Art Theatre (Too).
Before the show could go on, Harlan swept off the cement floor, built rough wooden risers and installed stage lighting. Folding chairs provide seating for 120 people, surrounding the stage area. Doors had to be cut and installed in the metal sides of the silo.
The dressing room was a tent out back. Bathrooms were portables set up outside. They had to get a temporary use permit from the city.
Still, up to 80 people showed up for each of the eight performances of “The Tempest.”
An immediate problem was that sound disappeared into the empty space overhead, which rises 10 stories to a leaky metal roof. That makes it hard to hear the actors.
A quick fix was installing more than 100 yards of canvas just above the performance area to trap sound, but more work is needed, he said.
“Acoustics is a challenge,” he said. “We have to figure out how to fix it.”
Harlan wants to expand seating to 350 people, and improve the lighting.
He also likes that the effort to save the silos is akin to a very large recycling project.
“Rather than tear it down we are using it for something,” he said.
Harlan, who works in marketing for IBM when not managing the theater, first came to Moscow as a graduate student in theater. He has a master’s in theater with an emphasis on writing and directing.
Moscow and the adjacent town of Pullman, home to Washington State University, form an academic island amid the vast wheat fields of the Palouse, one of the world’s most fertile regions. The schools provide built-in theater talent and audience.
The silo is unheated, so there are no productions this winter. But Harlan has plans for three shows this summer, including Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens.”
“It’s a spectacular space,” Harlan said. “It’s a great space to be a theater and it continues to get better as I improve it.”