Friday, August 24, 2007

Olympia Little Theatre seeks pro polish

Published in The News Tribune, August 24, 2007

I sit down on a ratty old divan in a partially-built set at Olympia Little Theatre and talk to new OLT board member and publicity chairwoman Bonnie Vandver and longtime board president Kathryn Beall. “Olympia Little Theatre is taking a real professional upswing this season,” Vandver says.

By bringing onboard a new production manager, Tim Samland, and artistic manager, Chad Carpenter, they hope to ensure smoother productions.

“We will model our productions the way professional theaters do,” Vandver says, explaining that she expects sets, props and all of the technical aspects of productions to come together in a more professional manner, which she says is “something new for OLT. We’ll see more seamless productions with stronger vision. I’m really excited about it.”

Vandver, originally from Cleveland, has been involved in theater for most of her adult life. She was active with a theater company in Cleveland, and – before coming to Olympia three years ago – she taught drama for 12 years in the Bethel and North Shore school districts.

“I missed being on stage, so when I quit teaching I got back into it,” she says.

In Olympia, she has done volunteer work with Harlequin Productions and Olympia Little Theatre, and last year she performed in the Theater Artists Olympia production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Samland, who also serves as vice president of the board, has been working with OLT for years, building sets and directing and acting in plays. Last year he directed “When the World Was Green,” which went to the regional American Association of Community Theater competition in Walla Walla and took a second-place award.

Carpenter, who doubles as co-chair of the board, also has extensive backstage experience building sets, running lights and stage managing.

This season will mark OLT’s 68th year, making it the second-oldest community theater in the region, just behind Tacoma Little Theatre. Vandver and Beall say that a noticeable change in the new season will be a lineup of more modern plays. More modern plays means more adult language and situations. Many of this year’s plays have strong language and sexual innuendo, and at least one – “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” – has graphic violence.

Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” for instance, “has 17 (obscenities)” Beall says. But she says she senses South Sound audiences are ready for more adult fare. Plus, she points out that both copyright laws and respect for playwrights demand that language not be watered down.

On the other hand, Beall says, “There will be no more nudity on stage” – referring to last year’s production of “Take Me Out.”

The season opens Sept. 14 with Ken Ludwig’s hilarious backstage farce “Moon Over Buffalo,” directed by Tim Samland and starring Tom Sanders, who directed and starred in “Take Me Out.” Also appearing in this comedy will be Cynthia Gibbs (in the role originated by Carol Burnett on Broadway), Barbara Ann Smith, Christina Bargel, Paul Gisi, Erik Cornelius, Alberto Cintron and Hannah Eklund.

“Moon Over Buffalo” relies heavily on familiar shtick such as revolving sets and mistaken identities. The action is fast-paced, and there is excessive physical comedy, including a mock fencing match and a wrestling match. In the Broadway production, there was even a pratfall into the orchestra pit. Since OLT does not have an orchestra pit, we’ll have to wait and see how they handle that. They do, on the other hand, have a revolving set that will be used for the first time in 20 years.

Next up will be “Visiting Mr. Green” in November. This contemporary drama is described in a company publication as “a heartwarming and tender story about friendship, family and forgiveness.”

In December, OLT will present the Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” In January, it will do the comedy “Moonlight and Magnolia,” a behind-the-scenes Hollywood story about movie moguls trying to pull together a new epic version of the classic “Gone with the Wind.”

Next will be Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Sisters Rosensweig,” followed by Simon’s “Rumors.” Ending the season next June will be “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” a dark drama strictly for adults. This production continues an Olympia Little Theatre tradition of ending the season with a risky play, which, in some ways, might typify much of this whole season.

Olympia Little Theatre is at 1925 Miller St., Olympia. More information is available on its Web site,, or by calling 360-786-9484. There are no reserved seats. Tickets will be available at the door and online at

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