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News / Life / Clark County Life

Dormant theater troupe, Pacific Stageworks, plans fundraiser show

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 26, 2018, 6:05am
5 Photos
Rehearsing a song and dance for Pacific Stageworks’ upcoming Dark Times Masquerade Gala are, from left: Jeanne Reed, Pacific Stageworks president Heather Blackthorn, choreographer Demarie Day, Katrina Cannon and Robert Altieri.
Rehearsing a song and dance for Pacific Stageworks’ upcoming Dark Times Masquerade Gala are, from left: Jeanne Reed, Pacific Stageworks president Heather Blackthorn, choreographer Demarie Day, Katrina Cannon and Robert Altieri. Contributed by Pacific Stageworks Photo Gallery

Local theater lovers who flash back a decade or two will recall a rich, diverse, thriving theater scene in Vancouver and Clark County. Compared with today, a surprisingly big group of working troupes used to get mentioned in this newspaper’s theater listings and stories.

Old Slocum House Theater. Blue Parrot Theater. Vancouver Community Theater. Heartland Theater Productions. Masque & Mirror Theatre Company. Tears of Joy Theater. Grassy Knoll Productions. ACME Productions. Arts Equity. Serendipity Players. Several of these formed a Clark County Theater Alliance and staged plays at a once-and-future church, the Columbia Arts Center.

But since then, due to everything from unaffordable and vanishing venues to “artistic differences,” nearly all of those groups have folded. Magenta Theater is Vancouver’s sole downtown theatrical success story today, and its popularity is due both to reliably people-pleasing fare (Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves and Wooster, “Miracle on 34th Street”) and, arguably, to the absence of any other downtown theater draws. And even though Magenta has grown into a big and busy business, it remains a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization. Working Clark County thespians tend to find opportunities — and paychecks — in Portland, which boasts many dozens of theater companies, from experimental and DIY to well-funded and highly professional.

“In Portland, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a theater company,” said Heather Blackthorn.

If You Go

What: Dark Times Masquerade Gala.

When: 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Tandem Hall, 808 Main St., Vancouver.

Tickets: $60; $100 per couple; $400 per table of eight.

• • •

What: “Rumors” by Neil Simon.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 9-10.

Where: Hampton Inn and Suites, 315 S.E. Olympia Drive.

Tickets: $12.

On the web: www.pacificstageworks.org

One of the Clark County groups that started, sputtered and stopped after just a handful of productions early in this decade was Pacific Stageworks. Blackthorn wasn’t involved with Pacific Stageworks, but she was and remains an irrepressible thespian who acted at Clark College and with Blue Parrot before life and family took her to places as far-flung as Puyallup and Kansas — where she kept studying acting and launching little grass roots theater companies, she said.

Now, life has returned Blackthorn to Vancouver, and she sums up her feeling this way: “I’m back! Let’s put on a show!”

When she approached friends on the leftover board of Pacific Stageworks, she said, they gave her their blessing — by handing over the entire operation, which has existed for the past half-decade in name only. Blackthorn is now working to rebuild Pacific Stageworks from the ground up; she’s enlisted her old friend Erica Erland to do publicity and general brainstorming, and the pair have launched a couple of projects to get the outfit back onto the local theater map.

First comes a Halloween-themed fundraiser called the Dark Times Masquerade Gala, set for the night of Oct. 27 and featuring live Broadway-style musical entertainment, a jazz combo, dinner, dessert, one complimentary cocktail and a cash bar. There’s a silent auction too. The tickets aren’t cheap at $60 per person or $100 per couple, but the point here is fundraising to launch a new project.

The setting for Dark Times is the repurposed downtown event space that used to be occupied by cafe and thrift shop Boomerang. Boomerang the cafe remains, but it’s shrunk to a much smaller size; meanwhile an office-sharing venue called CoLab has taken over and renamed the leftover space as Tandem Hall, and started hosting events and gatherings there — such as the ongoing Night Market on Fridays and Pacific Stageworks’ fundraising gala on the Saturday before Halloween.

Next, on the weekend of Nov. 9 and 10, there will be what Blackthorn calls a “light staging” of Neil Simon’s comedy “Rumors.” That means it’s mostly a rehearsed reading of the script — not a complete production with stage sets and blocking. In other words, all the pressure is on the actors to bring the show to life. That can make for some really vital theater. (Snacks and a cash bar can help.)

Where’s next?

“Rumors” will be performed at a hotel in east Vancouver: the Hampton Inn and Suites at 315 S.E. Olympia Drive. “I’m good at using resources. I see stages everywhere,” Blackthorn said.

That underlines the main obstacle that’s long prevented a real theater scene from thriving in Clark County, Blackthorn said: affordable real estate. When it comes to multiple theater companies, she said, “There’s room for everybody. But there’s no space for anything.”

It’s a problem local arts advocates and the city of Vancouver have struggled with for years — and there may be some news coming soon. But meanwhile, Blackthorn means to steer a fine line between quality mainstream productions that build a cushion for Pacific Stageworks by selling tickets — such as Neil Simon’s “Rumors” — and lesser-known but still “irresistible” plays of all kinds, she said, from musical comedy to timeless tragedy. She means to start slowly, she said, staging just a couple of productions per year.

“It’s not that I want to do super-edgy, out-of-the-Vancouver-comfort-zone shows,” said Blackthorn. “It’s that there are about 50 American plays that everybody knows and … have a history of attracting audiences.” Blackthorn wants to look beyond that predictable rotation for material that’s just as appealing but not so “overdone,” she said.

There may be obstacles, Blackthorn said, but a shortage of talented people isn’t one of them. “I want to rebuild the theater community back to what it was,” she said.