Contributed photo — Theater newcomer Clyde Bock plays Professor Gil Felty in “Schools of Thought.”

Festival aims to expand South Whidbey’s theater scene

Langley resident Edmond Nickson was 5 years old when he was last part of a play, but in the back of his mind, he always had the desire to return to the stage.

At 88, Nickson is making his return to theatre for One Act Fest Northwest at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA), proving it’s never too late to meet long-held goals.

According to him and organizers, the festival is an ideal opportunity to get involved in a theater production, and he’s not the only novice getting into character.

“I was somewhat hesitant, but I told myself I needed this challenge,” Nickson said. “I made the choice because I’m a people person and enjoy the different perspective characters give you, but I didn’t have the energy to do too much. This has been a great way to try it out.”

One Act Fest, which runs for three weeks and ends on Saturday, aims to offer Whidbey Island residents a chance to be part of a play regardless of age or experience. The festival is a three-week spectacle that features nine separate short productions that don’t exceed a single act. Performances have been held on weekends and during midweek, and midweek performances feature different acts than weekend show times.

The weekend shows feature six plays that run back-to-back, many of which have actors, directors and stagehands who are WICA newcomers. The midweek performances typically feature a single play, such as “Schools of Thought,” the production Nickson is part of.

Tickets cost $15-$22 for weekend shows, while midweek performances are pay-what-you-can.

Nickson joins a cast of people aged 60 to 88 in “Schools of Thought,” a play based on past writings by columnist Jim Freeman. Freeman once wrote about the seven different schools of thought in psychology and illustrated them through different species of fish. In doing so, Freeman playfully dives into what people believe and why people believe what they do. Freeman is played by WICA veteran Brian Burroughs, while most others are newcomers to center stage.

The next performance of “Schools of Thought” is at 2 p.m. Wednesday at WICA’s Zech Hall.

“It’s a wacky one, and everyone involved is having fun with it,” Director Teresa McElhinny said. “I think that helps with the nerves. Some of the actors were worried about memorizing lines since we’re all getting older, but they’ve done better than expected and everyone has received positive feedback from the audience.”

New performers like Nickson shouldn’t fear the stage, according to festival coordinator Phil Jordan. Seasoned mentors are assigned to those performing new roles to help them along the way, making it ideal for rookies who want to dip their toes in the water. Even Jordan, who has acting and directing experience with WICA, is taking on a new role as festival coordinator.

“For me, One Act Fest creates more opportunities for islanders to be involved in live theater than any other event,” Jordan said. “Even I’m a rookie coordinator, and I made some rookie mistakes, no doubt about it. Yet, everyone pulled together and we wouldn’t have gotten the experience if we didn’t give it a shot.”

One Act Fest organizers also encouraged those interested in testing the waters with directing, stage management and other positions to apply for a position. Jordan said a number of those who made props and designed sets were doing so for the first time with experts by their side. Additionally, the local women’s playwright festival last Tuesday was operated by a first time stage manager, and more than 10 actors who will take the WICA main stage for the weekend shows will be doing so for the first time.

Jordan added three directors have made their directing debuts, including “Schools of Thought” director Teresa McElhinny.

“There are regulars at WICA and other theaters on the island that people want to see in plays, but I think it’s fair to say people like to see new faces, particularly when they’re either older or younger,” McElhinny said. “The festival is a good way to include more islanders in the theater scene, because with this experience, the chances of being involved in another WICA play down the line are increased.”

It may seem a daunting task to stay up late memorizing lines and facing an audience, but Nickson says to dive in headfirst. You never know what you’ll be missing if you don’t give it a shot, and he added the experience is gratifying.

In the South Whidbey community, new actors have an encouraging environment to blossom.

“Personally, I think if anyone has a desire or need to try something new like acting, risk it,” Nickson said. “Being part of a play is about challenging your life, so just do it and see what it feels like. People won’t laugh at you.”

Contributed photo — Festival Coordinator Phil Jordan is a season actor and director with WICA, but is coordinating a festival for the first time.

Fritha Strand photo — Sandy Starets performs in a play for the first time in the one woman show, Rosa’s Eulogy.

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