Arts and Entertainment

Vashon's Oscar Night is part of a rich history that helped keep our local theater alive

Ten years ago, on Sunday, March 25, 2001, Vashon Film Society’s annual Oscar Night at The Vashon Theatre was captured on Q13’s 11 p.m. news, which catapulted our beloved island institution, the Vashon Theatre, into a new era.

Back in 2001, when the Vashon Film Society (VFS) was a member-based organization, the theater was in a vulnerable position. Carolyn Youngblood was looking to retire as owner of the theater business. The property’s owner, the Raab Family Trust, wanted to sell the theater building and adjoining parking lot. I, along with a group of other film society volunteers, spearheaded by then Island resident and VFS President Nina Milligan, led a campaign to save what was then called Island Theatre — a historic movie house that for decades had brought laughter, entertainment, thrills and drama to Island residents.

That March a decade ago, we did what we had been doing for previous Academy Award nights: We held our annual Oscar party complete with red carpet activities. And we did something else. We called off-Island media to garner more attention to what we perceived as the imminent demise of our theater. A news team from Q13 showed up, and we were featured on their 11 o’clock evening news.

Unbeknownst to us, tucked in for the evening after watching the Academy Awards at home in West Seattle, Eileen and Gordon Wolcott saw the news and heard our appeal for new owners to keep a small town community theater alive. Enchanted by the community spirit of the party revelers and the commitment portrayed by VFS volunteers, the Wolcotts saw an opportunity for a new adventure. The very next day, Eileen called Carolyn Youngblood to begin the conversation. After a couple of years of planning, the Wolcotts purchased both the theater business and the property in March 2003.

Today, the Vashon Theatre is more than just a movie house, as Mike Seely of The Seattle Weekly acknowledged when his newspaper awarded our island treasure the distinction of “Best Rural Movie Theatre” in 2010. “Sure,” he wrote, “they show movies — really interesting documentaries, charming indies, ‘The Twilight Saga: Eclipse at Midnight,’ ... even an Oscar Party. ... It’s not just a great place to take in a flick; it’s a community anchor.” Today, the Wolcotts continue to improve the physical structure and the offerings our small town theater provides, despite the challenges of our economy and restrictions imposed by the films’ distributors. All of us continue to support this theater — from the Vashon Film Society (now a private foundation that gives proceeds to graduating seniors through the Vashon Community Scholarship Fund) to all of you who come to watch the latest movie on the big screen, host a birthday party, attend a concert, join in the laughter at the Seattle International Standup Comedy Contest or sing in the annual holiday sing-alongs. As Seely said in the Seattle Weekly, “The silver-screen experience can be preserved for as long as people are willing to breathe ingenuity and life into it.”

Meanwhile, of course, Oscar Night at The Vashon Theatre continues, and it, too, is a testament to the strength and vitality of our community. I don’t know of any other Island event that involves such a cross-section of our community as this annual tradition. This year, 33 Island businesses donated prizes, gift certificates, cash or in-kind contributions; the Vashon Rotary Foundation will once again serve wine to benefit its causes; more than 50 volunteers will help put on this party and fundraising event. And perhaps best of all, hundreds of Islanders will attend — singles, couples, teens and entire families, some glamorous, others pajama-clad — an outpouring of support that since 2002 has awarded $9,200 in scholarships to 21 graduating seniors.

So this Sunday, when we once again come together in fine community fashion, we’ll relish the glamour of it all, the red carpet and the paparazzi, the Academy Awards ceremony on a silver screen, even commercial breaks with special appearances by Cher and the Washington State Fairies. But there will be something else special at this year’s larger-than-life Oscar event. We’ll also take a moment to celebrate the fact that 10 years ago Eileen and Gordon Wolcott saw the glimmer of possibility in a small community theatre and took action.

— Karen du Four des Champs, who has been the Oscar party’s emcee for the past 10 years and this year’s organizer, says this year will be her last. Oscar Night will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27.

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