Converted church in Woodland thrives as an amateur theater with classes for kids
The 10-year-old Vancouver nonprofit moves into music, murder and drama
Magenta Theater was founded by Vancouver transplant Jaynie Roberts in 2002 when she was homeschooling her children. Formerly from England, where she studied theater before completing her university degree in California, Roberts had begun writing plays around this time, and she wanted a place to produce them while spending time with her children.
It started very simply, Magenta’s artistic director and president said: “I wanted to put on a play and have my kids involved.”
The theater took off fairly quickly, but for the first few years Roberts was writing all the plays. Then ticket sales created enough income to put on a few well-known productions, focusing mostly on family-oriented plays and musicals.
In November 2008, after years of renting stages and spaces at local churches, Magenta leased its own space at 606 Main St. in downtown Vancouver. Originally, they thought they would be renting out the theater to other groups for events and productions, but the schedule quickly filled.
Magenta has an eclectic repertoire, and the group is always trying something new. Its offerings include an improv troupe, which was performing regularly on First Fridays; Magenta and Friends, a full rock band that is featured in the Best of Rock and Roll, a music revue that also invokes the spirits of musicians such as Janis Joplin and Elvis; and dinner theater at Main Street’s Rosemary Café.
And while the theater has generally been known for its family friendly musicals and other productions, now annually, it puts on a murder mystery.
“At first, we were a little bit leery about doing a more edgy show because we have been known for more family friendly stuff, but it’s once a year and we love it,” said Roberts.
In the spring, Magenta will be headed again into new territory with a dramatic piece, Shadowlands, the story of C.S. Lewis and his relationship with Joy Gresham.
Ending the summer will be a dramatic reading of Doubt in the Magenta After Hours series. The first reading was The Laramie Project, which was very well received. Each reading is followed by a “talk back” session, where questions can be asked of the director, actors and producer, as well as other professionals.
The After Hours series is a project of the theater’s educational arm, Magenta Theater Academy. The readings “are an opportunity for people who don’t want to take on a large project, but [would like to] direct or act in an After Hours project,” said Roberts.
The theater is a nonprofit, taking in money through ticket sales, small fundraisers and the theater academy. The group has received one grant in the past and is actively seeking grants today. The cast and crew are all volunteers and anyone is welcome to audition, although a core group performs in many of the plays.
“Recently, we have had some amazing new actors that we are hopeful will come back and do more shows with us,” said Roberts. “We do really like to use fresh faces.”
MAGENTA THEATER COMPANY
606 Main St., Vancouver
For a complete listing of the season’s events, check the website. All tickets available online.
Dinner theater at Rosemary Café
Talent for Murder
You Can’t Take it With You
The Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy took residence at Alki Middle School just over a year-and-a-half ago, and it’s quickly taken a lead role in offering peerless performing arts education and entertainment to the community.
According to creative director Noah Scott, the program fills a need for theater education. Most local organizations focus on productions, where MPAA is teaching fundamentals like breath and pitch control, reading music and understanding choreography.
“We give them the education first, and the show second,” Scott said. “I think some organizations focus on putting shows on, but it takes a special type of person to really teach kids.”
Almost anyone can find a part to play at Metropolitan. Its membership – now totaling more than 100 students – ranges from 6-year-olds to 50-somethings, but is largely comprised of school-aged kids. These are dedicated kids, that come to MPAA from as far as Washougal, Camas and Portland. Beyond ballet, tap and vocal technique lessons, these kids must quickly learn how to balance their classes and homework with six to eight hours of Metropolitan commitments per week.
“There are kids who are serious about this. They give 100 percent,” Scott said. “This is their soccer – their big thing.”
It’s a devotion that shines through in the academy’s productions. Since expanding its mission to include community theater, Metropolitan has been producing well-reviewed classical and pop musicals such as Bye Bye Birdie, Gypsy and My Son Pinocchio.
Between rehearsals, showcases, workshops and full-on productions, Metropolitan has a lot going on. Whether you want to brush up on your karaoke skills with a technique-based singing course, explore musical theater through a three-hour workshop, or go for star status with a premier path; there’s an educational plan for anyone who walks through the door.
Scott said that kids aren’t “picking their noses in the corner” at Metropolitan. Instead, they’re engaged with experienced instructors in classes of about eight students.
“It’s like reading a language,” Scott said. “When you give kids the tools to do a job well, they do a wonderful job.”
This is the big picture of Metropolitan. Scott said the goal is to get kids off couches and give them a reason to do their homework. The structure of goals and expectations instills a work ethic that equips members for the big stage of life according to Scott. He said the result is empowerment, community and confidence.
“That’s the greatest thing – to watch this harmonious, creative environment of people who have never danced before that are just in there going for it together,” Scott said. “It’s amazing to watch how bonded a 6-year-old and a sixteen-year-old can actually be, even though there’s so much difference in where they are in life. It’s like a family.”
METROPOLITAN PERFORMING ARTS ACADEMY
1800 N.W. Bliss Road, Vancouver
All tickets available by emailing
email@example.com or online.
Skyview High School
Meet Me in St. Louis
Washburn Performing Arts Center
From murder mystery to Christmas carols, the Loves Street Playhouse offers something for everyone. The Playhouse is a community theater, located in a small church in the middle of a Woodland neighborhood.
About seven years ago, the theater’s owner and artistic director, Melinda Leuthold, purchased the church building with her husband to create a way for local folks to experience live theater on a regular basis. Together, they converted the church into a theater.
“We tore out the pews, used the pulpit as the ticket counter up front, built this wall to hide the bathrooms and renovated the back,” recalled Leuthold. And now, with the stage dominating the room, clouds painted on the ceiling and posters of productions decorating the walls, you know you are in a theater.
In 2007, Leuthold started teaching classes to students and produced “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with them. The classes continue each year.
“This summer we did a two-week theater camp for kids ages 6 to 18,” she said. “We teach them different techniques, theater etiquette and improvisation games.” At the end of the camp, the students have the opportunity to star in a real play, for a real audience.
The classes have been very successful. Leuthold now has about 60 students in different groups; in 2007 there were only 10. Some of the early students have stayed with the theater. “One of them, who was quite young when we started, was just in my last adult show,” said Leuthold. “It’s fun to see them grow, change and then stay to continue learning.”
For regular shows, Leuthold calls for auditions. She advertises in the newspapers, sends out press releases and has 800 people on her mailing list. All of the actors and crew members are volunteers.
“As a community theater I can’t pay – I don’t have that kind of income” said Leuthold. And, she wants to keep the prices down to keep the theater accessible. “If I had $25 tickets, like the larger theaters, I could pay my actors. But right now, what I charge pays for the royalties, the costumes, the lights, the scripts. It’s expensive to put a show on and the income just covers that.”
Other income comes from varied local businesses such as the Woodland branch of Columbia Bank, Port of Woodland, Oak Tree Restaurant, Lewis River Golf Course, Woodland Truckline, Columbia River Carbonates and New Phoenix and Last Frontier Casino.
“Business sponsors contribute anywhere from $500 to $2,500. They helps us and I advertise for them – that help us keep our doors open.”
Unlike most community theaters, the Loves Street Playhouse is not a nonprofit organization but a sole proprietorship, meaning that donations are not tax exempt.
“I wanted to maintain control of what … gets put on the stage,” said Leuthold. “Once I turn it over to a board of directors, they may have my vision for a while, but will it always stay that way?”
LOVES STREET PLAYHOUSE
126 Loves Ave., Woodland
All tickets available online