The best moments in theater happen here on Vashon Island

The theater bug first bit me when I was 4 years old.

I can’t recall the name of the play, but I’ll never forget sitting in a high school theater with my parents, waiting for it to start.

Suddenly, the houselights dimmed, and a curtain went up to reveal a strange alternative universe where our friends and neighbors wore funny clothes and pretended to be other people.


Who knew that my Sunday school teacher and the family doctor could sing, dance and make everyone laugh? Who knew they could take us to a place that was so much more exciting than our humdrum Kansas town?

I was never quite the same after that.

Growing up, I spent most of my days as a theater nerd, deeply involved in community theater productions and school plays.

What bliss it was to huddle backstage with all the other kids like me.

We felt slightly sorry for the jocks and the cheerleaders and the scholars, because, after all, their roles never changed.

I could be anybody — the queen of England, Mrs. Lincoln or the witch in Hansel and Gretel. It was the gift that kept on giving, and I never lost interest and moved on to something new.

When the time came to go to college, yes, I became a drama major, and eventually, I headed off to New York to find out if I had what it took to work in the professional theater.

I didn’t.

But that’s another story, one that’s not particularly unique. What’s the old saying? “There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway.”

Except mine didn’t really break, it only hardened, as I spent several memorable years toiling away in the offices of Broadway producers, press agents and theater managers.

And somewhere along the way, I stopped being a theater nerd and became a theater snob.

I still loved the giddy anticipation of waiting for the house lights to dim, but that feeling only hit me if I were sitting in a gilded Broadway jewel box or some equally highfalutin’ big city show palace.

And on those rare occasions when I happened on a performance that was anything less than Tony Award-worthy, I rolled my eyes. I had no use for that homespun country cousin and ugly duckling that called itself community theater.

It took me a long, long time to wise up and remember why I fell in love with theater to begin with.

And it happened right here on Vashon, in a high school theater, watching my friends, neighbors and, yes, my own children perform in Drama Dock shows.

Most of the folks on stage in Drama Dock shows aren’t professionals. They are ordinary people, who, of course, aren’t ordinary at all.

And that’s the biggest miracle of all.

It’s true we are blessed on this Island with a higher quotient than average of talented, musical people. But Drama Dock always delivers up an embarrassment of riches.

Marshall Murray, who plays Ugly in Drama Dock’s current musical, “HONK!,” is a case in point. He has acted in more than 50 productions, and it shows as he does miraculous things, like dancing the rumba on roller skates while singing in a pitch-perfect musical theater voice.

I’m awestruck that Murray has chosen to share his talents right here on Vashon, not for money or fame, but instead for the sheer unadulterated love of the theater.

And then there are the Drama Dock stalwarts, people I look forward to seeing in each new production, and then spotting the next day in town as I run my errands.

It makes me feel like I live on Mount Olympus, sharing the aisles of Thriftway with superhuman beings.

And of course, my favorite performers are the children and teenagers who seem so at home on the stage, as if they were born to be there.

I hope they don’t have to take as long a journey as I did to realize that community theater can be as rich and rewarding as the best Broadway play.

Trust me. Sometimes the most transformative, magical and heart-melting moments of theater can happen on a humble high school stage, right in your own hometown.

—Elizabeth Shepherd is The Beachcomber’s arts editor.

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