Actors. They generally need lots of help, supporting spouses, partners, friends, and more. What are we going to do with them? For us, we encourage them and give them help when we can. For the past few years my wife, Peggy and I have given "pro bono" marketing to CenterStage in Federal Way. We do this not because they are a local community theater that needs help, but rather because we recognize and enjoy quality live entertainment. I don't know how many productions we've seen at Dumas Bay and the Knutsen Family Theatre (the home of CenterStage), but we've certainly enjoyed them. We've brought friends and family there to laugh and delight. We've always been rewarded with their appreciation of the gesture and the quality of the amusement and presentations.
At the heart of any theater is the managing director or managing artistic director. At CenterStage that's Alan Bryce. The title doesn't really reflect on the duties, it's more like the tip of the ice berg. A good managing director needs to wear many hats as they put all of the elements of live theater together. Not only do they have to know the theater, but we expect them to manage the business of the organization as well. And in addition they have to know their audience
What does an acting product of the U.K. and Scottish ancestry do when they find themselves out of work in Springfield, Missouri? It took Alan almost six months of mailing job applications to theaters nationwide to realize that no one was going to hire him away from the "Birthplace of Route 66" and what's called the "Queen City of the Ozarks." Alan moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2002 and was hired at CenterStage in 2004.
I don't recall the first play we saw at CenterStage, but Peg and I fell in love with the place when we saw Enchanted April. The opening scene in dreary England was played in front of the drawn curtain, with the curtain up the location shifted to Tuscany we felt transported back to a villa we and friends had rented a few years before. We were hooked.
Transporting is what good theater does. It takes you away. It takes you to some other place. Ever since man gathered around a campfire and simply used gestures and sounds to explain a recent hunt, people have been mesmerized by story tellers. On a summer morning Peg and I met Alan for brunch in West Seattle. We were on our way to review Pirates of Penzance and Alan was preparing for Sleeping Beauty auditions. Sleeping Beauty is one of the "pantos" that Alan has introduced to the South Sound.
Pantomimes are not what you expect. There are no mimes or gestures . . . well, there are gestures but most are accompanied by dialog. The pantomime was developed in England and usually produced around the Christmas and New Year season. Alan has a friend who writes them. They include songs, dancing, slapstick comedy, and gender-crossing actors. Topical humor is added to a well-known fairy tale and performed outrageously. The audience is expected to participate with singing, and shouting out phrases as taught by one of the performers. Booing and hissing of evil-doers is encouraged as are cheers for the good guys. The pantomime was developed partly from commedia dell'arte.
Alan brought us up to speed on the gender crossing aspects of the art form. At one time women actors were not allowed to show their legs and so they were cast as men, so they could wear tights. Women actors objected to playing parts like "ugly step sisters," witches, and crones, so men were cast.
An artistic managing director has to know the history of his art in order to revive it when needed. Alan explained that two pantomime characters were almost lost: financial backers as comic foils. We see this in The Drowsy Chaperone "Toledo Surprise" and the two gangsters who "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" in Kiss Me Kate.
Taking his own family history and blending it with events, and then bending it a bit more is what Alan did with last season's production For All That. The wonderful musical involved the people of Lewis Island in Scotland, World War I's battle of the Somme, and conscientious objectors. Alan combined music, dance, humor and tears. With his latest 3-year contract, Alan has agreed to write a play a year. The first is Death on the Supermarket Shelf, a real life murder mystery based on the unsolved Tylenol murders of the 80's. This will be the third production of the year.
In addition to the four play season, Alan is relying on one or two night performances from outside CenterStage. After all a dark theater makes no income. Two productions will be one-person as one-character shows: Albert Einstein and Woody Guthrie. The night before brunch with Alan, Peggy and I had watched a one-person Mark Twain production on local-TV sponsored by the Tukwilla Rotary Club. It was fascinating. I'm looking forward to meeting both Einstein and Guthrie.
Over brunch and coffee we had a very relaxed morning with Alan. We look forward to the new season: Albert Einstein, the Judy Garland Songbook on a Sunday afternoon with Meg McLynn and the Purple Phoenix Orchestra, Woody Guthrie, Sleeping Beauty, Ring of Fire (the Johnny Cash story in song), Death on the Supermarket Shelf, and 9 to 5, Dolly Parton's great musical of female empowerment.
While Peg and I braved the Mariner's traffic on I-5 driving our way to Gilbert & Sullivan, Alan hurried off to his auditions for Sleeping Beauty. I think his eight-year-old daughter has a part in the panto. There must have been a pre-audition.
Single tickets are available by phone, (253) 661-1444, online at www.centerstagetheatre.com, and in person at the Knutzen Family Theater box office. All shows are performed at the Knutzen Family Theatre unless otherwise noted and are general admission.