Cirque Playhouse closes in Central Area of Seattle after 19 years on February 16, 1969.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 5/31/1999
  • Essay 1183

On February 16, 1969, Seattle's Cirque Playhouse closes "permanently" after 19 years, 17 of them at 3406 East Union Street in the Central Area. The theater had once been quite popular, but, during the 1960s, limited parking and an increase in street violence in the neighborhood had contributed to low attendance.

Gene Keene, an English major at the University of Washington, founded the Cirque as First Central Staging in Broadway Hall, Broadway and Madison Streets, in 1950. The theater moved to the Central Area location in 1952. By 1975, the Cirque had staged 225 shows featuring actors such as Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, John Carradine, Mercedes McCambridge, Hans Conreid, Ruta Lee, Eve Arden, Bob Cummings, and Howard Keel.

Under the leadership of founder-director Keene, the company had become "the oldest and longest running professional theater in Seattle." In the 270-seat theater, the company specialized in staging well-known performers starring in well-known musicals and comedies.

For two years after the Playhouse closing, the company used a core of six local actors to put on summer shows in Port Townsend and for the Seattle Parks Department. In March 1971, Keene reopened the Cirque as a weekend dinner theater in the Georgian Room of the Olympic Hotel (4th Avenue and University Street) in downtown Seattle. In 1973, the Cirque moved to a remodeled bowling alley at 131 Taylor Avenue N, where it became the only professional dinner theater on the West Coast.

Keene sold the Cirque in 1980. The company gave its last performance on January 1, 1981.


Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 6, 1982, p. E-1; Carole Beers, "Gene Keene and The Cirque," The Seattle Times Sunday Magazine, January 12, 1975, pp. 9-10; The Seattle Times, March 16, 1982, p. B-1; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 266.

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