Arts and Entertainment

Theater pros find a vibrant life on Vashon

Jim D’Asaro and Rebecca Spencer on their deck, at sunset. - Tom Hughes photo
Jim D’Asaro and Rebecca Spencer on their deck, at sunset.
— image credit: Tom Hughes photo

For every newcomer who meticulously plans a move to Vashon, there are always one or two others who seem to arrive on the Island by chance.

Jim D’Asaro and Rebecca Spencer, two high-profile theater professionals who are East Coast transplants to Vashon, are a case in point. Neither one of them had ever set foot on the Island before they moved to a rented waterfront cottage in Burton last December.

The couple, who have been married for 22 years, still seemed a bit dazed by their own good fortune as they sat on their expansive deck on a balmy evening in June.

As the sunset painted Quartermaster Harbor purple and a blue heron sailed high overhead, Spencer and D’Asaro leaned back in Adirondack chairs and admitted they hadn’t set out to find Vashon. Instead, Vashon had found them.

“There’s magic here,” Spencer, a striking redhead, said with a laugh.

The story of the couple’s move, it turns out, involves the potent combination of mid-life soul searching, a sluggish housing market and the Web site Craigslist.

And all that, in turn, has created new opportunities for Island artists, including four UMO Ensemble members D’Asaro recently hired to work on a new theater project in Seattle.

D’Asaro’s and Spencer’s story began last year, when D’Asaro was contacted by an old friend, Jimmy Nixon, who asked if D’Asaro would step in as the executive director of Broadway Bound, an acclaimed and rapidly growing Seattle children’s theater Nixon founded 12 years ago.

D’Asaro was nearing his 10th anniversary as director of production for the New York City Opera, another milestone in a storied career that has included jobs in stage and production management on Broadway, Yale Repertory Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Radio City Music Hall.

But D’Asaro said he’d reached the point where he wondered what he was supposed to do next. He was ready, he said, to “pay it forward” in his industry, and the idea of working for a children’s theater was especially appealing.

Spencer, an acclaimed performer and recording artist with a long resumé of Broadway, regional theater and cabaret credits, had just completed a two-year run in the Las Vegas version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” playing the coveted role of Madame Giry.

She was also eager to have the chance to look for new opportunities on the West Coast.

The couple decided to take a leap and move to Seattle, but their plan hit a roadblock when their house in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., didn’t sell in a tough housing market.

Scrambling, D’Asaro went online

to try to find a furnished rental in Seattle.

“We had never heard of Vashon, but then I saw an ad on Craigslist for a waterfront house in Burton,” he explained. “Based on the pictures in the ad, we signed a lease.”

Since then, the couple has quickly acclimated to the unique culture of the Island.

“I think I understand the bumper sticker, ‘Keep Vashon Weird,’” D’Asaro said. “In theater, you see it all. We’re very open-minded.”

One of the couple’s first Island discoveries was UMO Ensemble, and D’Asaro recently contracted with the group to appear in Broadway Bound’s current production of “Peter Pan.”

“We were grappling with how to fly our cast,” D’Asaro explained. “And then the idea came to me — instead of ropes and wires and kids flying back and forth in a straight line, we could have a sequence where the children were lifted into the air by dancers.”

D’Asaro called Elizabeth Klob, UMO’s executive artist, who arranged for four UMO performers — Lyam White, T’ai Hartley, Anthony Courser and Leah Urzendowski — to appear in “Peter Pan,” costumed as ghostly white clouds that lift the children into the air.

“It was a real shot in the dark collaboration,” said Klob, adding that she hoped UMO would get more chances to work with Broadway Bound.

As D’Asaro and Spencer sat on their deck and shared their excitement about their new lives here, the possibilities did indeed seem limitless.

“When you really do embrace an opening,” Spencer said, “you get more chances. You have fresh eyes.”

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