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Randall Theatre poised for a bold leap

After the events of the past week, we could all use a little good news. How about the Randall Theatre Company’s plans to launch a restaurant in the former Howiee’s on Front location to support its community theater operation in the adjoining performance space?

That’s a think-outside-the-black-box idea we can enthusiastically support.

Howiee’s was a downtown fixture for a quarter century that added a live music venue to its bar-and-grill operation. The business shut down after the original owner retired and the subsequent operators ran into trouble with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Randall moved its theater operation into the performance side of Howiee’s last year, creating the Ghostlight Playhouse and mounting small-audience theater productions before the pandemic “pause” in November followed by a livestream production of “Id! I Do” in December.

John Wing, Randall’s executive director, says the building’s owners are eager to see the restaurant side reopen. The alternative would be tearing out the furniture and kitchen equipment and turning it into retail space.

That would be a shame for downtown, which needs more entertainment and dining establishments, not less. A restaurant that could help support a nonprofit theater company would offer both, in an inspired combination.

Wing and his mother, Artistic Director Kathy Wing, plan a fundraising campaign to secure a lease on the restaurant. That’s a bold move under normal circumstances — restaurants are low-margin operations that are not easy businesses to operate successfully, and launching one in the middle of a pandemic is even more daring. But then, running a community theater is no barefoot walk in the park either.

The fact that the restaurant comes fully equipped — Wing says the kitchen looks like it just closed for the night, despite being dark for a year — will help. And the timing could be just right, with a COVID vaccine roll-out offering hope that the pandemic could be controlled by later this year.

Theater folk tend toward cockeyed optimism in any case. We wish Randall the best with this exciting new venture. The possibilities are endless. Imagine, if you will, a dinner theater that doesn’t require a trip to Ashland.

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