Artfully Edmonds: Driftwood Players begin 53rd year entertaining Edmonds

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The intimate, 223-seat Wade James Theatre is named after the man who designed it.

By Ellen Chappelle

As a newer Edmonds resident, I’ve wondered about the history of this stalwart little company that consistently mounts great shows with an all-volunteer staff. So I asked Board of Directors member Roger Huston to give me the inside scoop on Driftwood Players.

“Driftwood Players  started when two of our founders, Nann Prebezac and Jan James, were cast in the Snohomish County Little Theatre production of Tobacco Road in 1957,” explained Huston. “They met and formed friendships with other thespians from the South County and the group decided to try to form a company closer to home. The Driftwood Players were formed and produced their first season in 1959. The company performed in various spaces until the current theater was finished in 1969.”

Driftwood board member Roger Huston at the light board.

Driftwood Players’ intimate, 223-seat theatre, named after Wade James, who designed it, is owned by the City of Edmonds. James, the husband of one of the theater company’s founding members, also secured the land for the company, leasing it from the city. Wade and Paul Roy, another Driftwood Players volunteer who served as general contractor, worked together to coordinate the construction of the theatre.

“The city has allowed DP to use the theatre, as its only tenant, ever since,” said Huston. “We share maintenance responsibility for the building with the city, but the Driftwood Players are solely responsible for maintaining and updating the things that make a theater work – lighting and sound systems, curtains, the stage itself, etc.”

MAINSTAGE
Each year, Driftwood Players mount five Mainstage productions. These include classic plays, comedies, dramas and musicals. (Learn about the shows of the 2011-2012 season here.)

“Sometimes, people want to laugh. Other times to think,” says Huston. “But they always want to be entertained. Our research into past seasons has shown that a murder mystery does best to open the season. The longer-running shows, over Thanksgiving and into December, have recently been musicals. ‘Annie’ did very well in this slot last year and we have big hopes for ‘The King and I’ this year.”

ALTERNATIVE STAGES
For the past ten years, Driftwood Players has also produced five pieces they call Alternative Stages.

“We often focus on our five Main Stage shows,” Huston said. “I’d like to ensure, though, that the Alternative Stages aren’t forgotten. These are shows that run between our Mainstage shows and they allow us to take a few more chances. The shows can be somewhat edgier. Some of them are original works, never before produced anywhere. These shows run for one week only, typically four performances, and usually have minimal sets. The emphasis is on the actors and how they can bring these works to life. I would like to encourage everyone to try at least one of our Alternative Stage performances.”

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
The Driftwood Players also offer staged readings, movie sing-alongs and their First Draft program. First Draft offers an opportunity for the audience to take part in the creative process of completing an original work. Actors dramatize the work in a readers-theatre style, followed by a lively discussion, giving the author the ability to see what works and what doesn’t. Admission is free for First Draft events.

EDUCATION
In addition to staging its productions, the theater company also strives to educate the next generation of performers.

“The last show in our theatre was ‘The Secret Garden,’ produced by the Missoula Children’s Theatre,” Huston said. “This was one of two summer programs DP sponsored for young people interested in theatre. The other was our own three-week summer camp, which concluded with a production of ‘High School Musical’ the week before. Our theatre is quite busy during the year and we take advantage of the downtime following these two productions to catch up on maintenance items that accumulate throughout the season.”

NO REST FOR THE WEARY
There’s not much downtime for the Driftwood Players volunteers, though. The first Mainstage show of the 2011-2012 season (“A Murder is Announced”) began rehearsals Aug. 1. Rehearsals are held at Driftwood Players’ rehearsal annex on 2nd and Dayton to allow the set to be built right on the stage. The actors are scheduled to begin rehearsing on-set the week of Aug. 28, so the set builders have to make their magic happen fast!

“The major elements of a set go up pretty quickly, but finishing touches, including molding, can take some time,” Huston explained. “Then our painting volunteers turn our rough walls and platforms into a finished product that the audience can believe it is a real house/hotel/hillside, etc. The importance of their work can’t be overemphasized. On our last production, there were ‘marble’ elements that I know were plywood, but they truly looked like marble. Not all our artists appear as actors in our shows.”

LIVE AND LOCAL
The benefits of a live, local performing company are just that. It’s live and it’s local.

“There is an energy to a live performance that one just cannot get from a movie,” Huston said. “These are real people, close enough almost to touch (especially in an intimate setting like ours). We are in Edmonds and for Edmonds. Our ticket prices are lower than those of the big downtown theaters. Traffic, too, is a lot less of a hassle. And our productions are still high quality.

“An Edmonds resident can come to one of our shows by a short drive (or walk, for some), meet others from our community before the show or during intermission, and enjoy a quality theatrical performance for a nominal price. Life just doesn’t get a lot better than this.”

With a background in theatre and journalism, Ellen Chappelle is perfectly poised to covers the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She also keeps busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry. Please keep her posted about all things artistic in Edmonds by emailing her at arts@myedmondsnews.com.

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