The COVID-19 pandemic took a lot of things away for a while. And one upcoming theater production is not only bringing live theater back to the community, but also giving back to a group of kids who might have otherwise lost out on an educational opportunity.
The weekend of June 4-6, Theater of Arts Discipline (TOAD) of Chehalis will be presenting “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The production, a partnership with Centralia’s Evergreen Playhouse, will take place on an outdoor stage and be accompanied by a Renaissance Faire.
The partnership started simply when Theresa McKenzieSullivan, who is involved with both Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre and Evergreen Playhouse, was asked to take over the Shakespeare program at St. Michael Parish School in Olympia. The program introduces all fifth-graders in the school to the works of Shakespeare and they culminate the program by visiting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Because of COVID-19, both last year’s and this year’s fifth-graders were unable to make the trip, so McKenzieSullivan turned to Rich and Kris Garrett of TOAD and asked if they would produce a Shakespeare show for her students.
“I thought I could at least come up with a way for the kids to have a live theater experience,” McKenzieSullivan said.
TOAD accepted video auditions from potential cast members in February and announced a cast in March. But as the situation with COVID-19 and the state’s reopening plan evolved, so did discussions about the event.
Organizers began discussing while putting the effort in to build an outdoor stage whether they might be able to use it for more than just the private show for the St. Michael fifth- and sixth-graders. Shows for the public were added and then, later, the Renaissance Fair component. McKenzieSullivan said the experience has reminded her why she values the creative people who are involved with TOAD and the Evergreen Playhouse.
“What I love about this community is how a little idea can become a huge festival and it just happens by sharing it with people who are willing to really run with it,” she said.
The TOAD production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” features 19 cast members portraying the 20 roles in the farcical romp. The Shakespearean classic tells the story of Lysander (portrayed by Christian Bolduc) and Hermia (portrayed by Celeste Haugen) who want to marry, but her father, Egeus (portrayed by Bob McKenzieSullivan) disapproves. Their case is heard by the Duke Theseus (portrayed by Joe Sokolik) and his betrothed Amazon Queen Hippolata (portrayed by Theresa McKenzieSullivan) and are denied. The couple then hatches a plan to elope with the help of their friend Helena (portrayed by Amanda Kemp). But once in the forest, they (and many other characters) are caught up schemes of fairies Oberon (portrayed by Ryan Holmberg) and Puck (portrayed by Isabel Nixon Klein), who are attempting to play a trick on Oberon’s queen, Titiana (portrayed by Brittany Lael).
Director Rich Garrett said they chose “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” because it is a lighthearted story, which they figured everyone needs right now. And the TOAD version has been condensed so that it runs only about one hour and 15 minutes long. While Shakespeare, this show included, could tend toward vulgarity, he explained they focused more on the true meat of the story and the family-friendly parts of the comedy.
“I think people are wanting to come out and laugh and have fun, so I’ve made it a lot of physical comedy, really slapstick kind of stuff,” Rich Garrett said. “And people usually forget the lovers in this story. I don’t think they will with this version.”
The Renaissance Faire part of the show will take place for the hour prior to each show time. The event will feature live music performances, concessions and a beer garden by the Evergreen Playhouse, crafts and face painting by Nicole Galyean Crafts, crafts and henna body art by Suno Henna, and candles by StarHaven Candles of Rochester. As with all true Renaissance faires, attendees are strongly encouraged to wear costumes, and there will be a costume contest each day. Theresa McKenzieSullivan said they hope the outdoor show and faire could be one of many, if the community embraces the concept.
“The idea is to make it fun and bring something kind of different to Centralia and get everybody out and enjoying live theater, because we haven’t been able to do it in a long time,” she said.
There are only 60 tickets available for each showing of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” so advanced ticket purchase is recommended. For another $20, ticket holders can choose a Renaissance style “feast” created by Flourish Café featuring meat or veggie pie, corn on the cob, fruit, bread, cheese, water and strawberry tart. Food options must be reserved by May 27.
For this performance, audience, staff and crew are required to be masked. Kris Garrett said all of their performers will likely be unmasked for the show but they supported anyone who opted to continue to perform with a mask on.
One of the more unique aspects of performing on an outdoor stage is that the Evergreen Playhouse is located in a residential neighborhood. Rehearsals happen amid the sounds of car engines and neighbors mowing their lawns as well as whatever weather comes their way. Kris Garrett explained that prior to their show, they plan to do outreach to neighbors to let them know about the event and invite them to bring out their lawn chairs and enjoy a free show. They will also have volunteers on the lookout for attendees blocking driveways or otherwise disrupting the neighborhood in any way.
“When we do something outside, we really want to talk with our neighbors so they all love us,” she said.
The outdoor stage at the Evergreen Playhouse will house both “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as “Shootout at Sadie’s Saloon” this summer. And the Evergreen Playhouse just announced that it will be bringing back live, indoor theater in October when its season kicks off in October with “Hound of the Baskervilles” followed by “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in December. The last three shows of the 62nd season, as requested by membership, will be “Next to Normal,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Mamma Mia!” which are the three shows that were canceled by COVID-19. Though they did not know exactly how long their intermission would be when COVID hit, the Garretts said they had faith the curtain would rise again and they are glad the moment has arrived.
“It’s exciting — being able to do this,” said Rich Garrett of preparing for the show. “And I think people will be jazzed to get out and see this.”
“It’s like a huge sigh of relief. You can breathe again,” Kris Garrett said.
If You Go …
What: TOAD presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Evergreen Playhouse presents Renaissance Faire
When: Show begins at 7 p.m. June 4-5 and 2 p.m. June 6. Renaissance Faire begins an hour prior to the show.
Where: Outdoor Theatre and Renaissance Faire located in the parking lot next to the Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia.
Tickets: $10 for show/faire only or $30 for dinner and show. Dinner option must be ordered by May 27.
Tickets and more information at: evergreenplayhouse.com
Evergreen Playhouse presents “Shootout at Sadie’s Saloon”
7 p.m. Aug. 20-21 and 2 p.m. Aug. 22
$10 general admission
Evergreen Playhouse’s 62nd Season Lineup
“Hound of the Baskervilles” October 2021
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” December 2021
“Next to Normal” February 2022
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” March-April 2022
“Mamma Mia!” May 2022
Season subscriptions and flex passes now on sale for $60 for seniors/students and $75 for adults.Info: evergreenplayhouse.com