Vashon Repertory Theatre (VRT) has announced plans to bring the magic of live performance back to Vashon this summer with a summer festival featuring four productions held on multiple stages — all taking place on two consecutive weekends in mid-summer, July 22 to 25 and July 29 to Aug. 1.
It’s a dizzying thought — so much live theatre going on at one time on Vashon. But organizers promise that COVID safety protocols for cast, crew and audiences of the shows have been developed in consultation with Dr. Jim Bristow, of Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps. These include required vaccinations for all cast and crew, limited rehearsals, mostly outdoor performances, and socially distanced seating for small audiences, with masks required.
Still, even with these caveats to the pandemic era, the group is eager to launch its inaugural edition of the Vashon Repertory Theatre Fest in a way that might seem splashy and ambitious to some, given the deprivations of the previous year.
Shows on tap will include new VRT productions of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (outdoors, at Open Space) and Peter Glazer’s musical “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” (outdoors, at Ober Park). Vashon’s longtime UMO Ensemble will also perform their Samuel Beckett-inspired show, “Fail Better,” outdoors, at Open Space.
The festival’s second weekend will bring a production of “Bo-Nita,” a one-woman show written by Elizabeth Heffron and performed by New York actor Terri Weagant, to the Kay White Hall at Vashon Center for the Arts.
The festival will also include two evenings of play-readings in the outdoor garden of Snapdragon.
And if all that isn’t enough theater for you — wait, there’s more.
Drama Dock’s production of “ART,” by Yasmina Resa, scheduled to take place on July 15, 16 and 17 at Vashon Center for the Arts, is also being touted by Vashon Repertory Theatre as a pre-festival event.
Charlotte Tiencken, a longtime islander, theater professional and founder of Vashon Repertory Theater, described the festival is an exciting chance for audiences to come together to experience multiple types of performances in a concentrated time. Her aim, she said, is to get people thinking about the arts in a different way.
“This has been a dream of mine for some time, and my feeling is, if not now, when?” said Tiencken, adding that she wouldn’t define a four-show festival as a large endeavor. “Music is extremely prevalent on Vashon, with lots of amazing musicians — I think it’s time for theater to have its turn.”
She said that the eagerness of the island theatre community to get back to work and Vashon’s high vaccination rate also contributed to her conviction that the time was right for the festival.
Elizabeth Klob, the executive artist of UMO Ensemble and the director of “Fail Better,” said she and the cast of the show were indeed looking forward to their return to live performance on Vashon — and would do so with a show she believes will resonate with islanders after the long pandemic year.
“What most excites UMO about recreating this work is continuing to explore the timeless themes of Samuel Beckett — isolation, longing for connection, questioning the very purpose of existence,” she said. “I feel like the pandemic has laid these issues bare for many of us. We are excited to move them in our bodies again and talk to the audience afterward.”
Open Space co-founder David Godsey said that he too was excited to help host the theater festival as part of a wider reopening of Opening Space this summer that would also include concerts, Open Air aerial performances, laser light shows, two visiting circus troupes, and the return of the Night Light Drive-In movie theater.
“After fifteen months without live audiences, it is very exciting to have folks back at Open Space,” he said.
Tiencken hopes the summer of 2o21 is only the start for VRT’s new theatre festival — she wants to see it become an annual tradition on Vashon, drawing off-island audiences to Vashon for the weekend to not only watch plays but also to stay, dine and shop in local establishments.
“Vashon would be lost without the local restaurants and shops,” she said. “I really want to support them by bringing people to the island for a short period of time.”
To that end, VRT’s efforts this year will include encouraging local lodgings, restaurants and other businesses to offer discounts to ticketed visitors, said Susan McCabe, who is in charge of marketing for the festival.
VRT, founded during the pandemic, already has three productions under its belt. Last October, the company presented two radio plays — “Home,” a collection of short plays, and Orson Welles’ classic “War of the Worlds,” streamed and broadcast in collaboration with Vashon Center for the Arts and Voice of Vashon. The casts for the shows included Vashon theater stalwarts. as well as some actors from off-island.
In February, the company presented “Savage/Love,” an experimental theater production about relationships that allowed for the COVID-safe innovation of having Vashon theater couples take on different segments of play. That show, too, was streamed live by Vashon Center for the Arts.
To find out more about all the offerings of Vashon Repertory Theatre Fest, and find a link to purchase festival tickets and weekend passes after May 17, visit vashonrepertorytheatre.org/vashon-repertory-theatre-fest. Tickets may also be purchased directly from BrownPaperTickets.