Staying Alive 

Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theater opens at new space

On a recent January morning, a group of volunteers gathered outside of Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theater's former home on Ninth and Broad streets. Current cast members, season ticket holders and executive board members hoisted furniture, costumes and props into a fleet of vehicles before departing for the nonprofit theater's new location in the aging Parkcenter Mall.

"We were looking for something that was within our price range" explained Mary McGreaham, executive board member and director of The Murder Room. "We tried to stay close to the downtown core, there are a lot of theaters in the area ... We also wanted to continue as a dinner theater. That made our considerations a little bit different--we needed to have a kitchen facility. We feel like we've found a lot here."

The theater, known primarily for musicals and comedies, first began producing shows in 1984, a time when other local theater groups like Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Stage Coach Theatre and Boise Little Theater were each beginning to carve out niches.

"It seems like, at that time, there was nobody that was doing Shakespeare, then the Shakespeare Festival filled that hole. Stage Coach took on doing the more avant-garde theater, and Knock 'Em Dead basically started doing musicals," said Scott Beseman, KED co-founder and president.

The company's initial play, Dracula, was performed at the Women's Club, one of several locations KED used before securing a permanent spot at its 15-year home on Ninth Street in the summer of 1995. Old and musty without central heating or air conditioning, the space was a blank slate that the company could completely transform for each new show. During performances, patrons would gather around an assortment of communal round tables, where cast and crew would all pitch in to serve themed meals--like ketchup-covered mashed potatoes at a murder mystery, for example.

"It was a big warehouse, about 7,500 square feet, 16-foot tile ceilings; it was about 40 feet across. We were able to do a lot bigger shows--we did Sound of Music and Titanic, Into the Woods," said Beseman. "But that's all being torn down to form Jack's Urban Marketplace [sic]."

Jack's Urban Meeting Place, or JUMP, is the Simplot family's proposed park/art studio space/concert facility/tractor museum/J.R. Simplot corporation headquarters/playland that will occupy four-blocks west of BODO--property that includes the buildings that formerly housed both the Emerald Club and Knock 'Em Dead. Though J.R. Simplot Company spokesman David Cuoio said they're still hammering out details, working with ACHD on permits before heading back to the city's design review board, things are progressing with considerable speed. They hope to break ground in late summer, said Cuoio, and if everything goes according to plan, JUMP will be up and hopping 24 to 30 months later. But before any of this can happen, the buildings that housed KED and the Emerald Club--now silent spaces that once rang out with Evita and Madonna--must first be bulldozed.

"I suspect a lot of people are expecting massive impressive demolitions like they've seen in Las Vegas. That's not going to be the case; it's going to be pretty low-key," said Cuoio. "I don't know exactly what the process is, but it's not going to be anything dramatic, and I think we anticipate that happening sometime later this month or early in March. It's fairly soon."

Though KED had six months to find a new space, it took them until the 11th hour to secure a spot in the Parkcenter Mall.

"The day the announcement came out in the paper was the day we were notified," said McGreaham. "So it was several months notice, but they said, 'You have to be out by Dec. 31.' ... We knew that the end of the year was the deadline, and we were just scrambling working toward that and came in just under the wire."

Once home to semi-fancy establishments like Talbots and Aubergine, the Parkcenter Mall is now a dated, mostly forgotten space consisting of a trickling fountain, a TCBY, a Smoky Mountain Pizza and some random offices. Though KED is not particularly glam, their presence has brought a new sparkle to the space. In addition, the recently constructed theater--with its fresh paint smell and shiny new stage--has also inspired a sense of pride among KED actors. Kelliey Chavez, a longtime KED musical performer and the current gold-digging red-headed star of The Murder Room, views the new space as a big step up.

"A lot of people would go in and see that the old theater was threadbare ... this new space is so much cleaner, and I feel more proud to have people come see me at a show at the new space than I did at the old space," said Chavez. "Now I'm happy with the whole experience."

And while many improvements have been made to KED during the transition--like more free parking, a more efficient dining experience and an overall more comfortable feel with heating and air conditioning--the new theater lacks the history and well-worn charm of its previous location. Though Beseman has embraced the theater's transition, he's understandably wary of the development that will be erected in KED's old space.

"They were nice enough to let us have the place for 15 years, so I'm thankful for that," said Beseman. "Do I think it's a good idea? It's not really the time, I think, to do some of that stuff. There's so much empty space in town--so many warehouse spaces--all that kind of stuff. I'm not sure if we really need to tear down to build more. Boise tends to always jump to the brand-new and then it kind of wears off."

Whether Beseman intended the pun, and whether enthusiasm for the JUMP project will eventually wear off, it's inevitable that Boise's maturing performing arts scene will continue to push out the quirky old in favor of the cutting-edge new. Luckily for those who want the best of both worlds, the new Knock 'Em Dead is only a five-minute jaunt from the old.

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