Whidbey Island Theatre Festival is a collaboration for art, education and fun

In a marriage of education and entertainment, two local theater companies strive for happy endings. Luckily, the Whidbey Island Theatre Festival is a match made in heaven.

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In a marriage of education and entertainment, two local theater companies strive for happy endings.

Luckily, the Whidbey Island Theatre Festival is a match made in heaven.

In a collaboration between Whidbey Children’s Theater and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, theater educators have created a conservatory experience for children and adults, and an entertainment experience for the community, during the summer in Langley.

Festival marketing director Jason Dittmer said the centerpiece of the collaboration is the summer training program.

“In our program, emerging theater talents collaborate with accomplished teachers and mentors in a vital, professional and educational atmosphere,” Dittmer said.

Although the festival serves the community with classes in both artistic and technical theater crafts such as acting, movement for the stage, an audition workshop and the more technical “stagecraft,” it also reaches out to a larger community by introducing some unique classes.

Classes such as claymation, film production, or spoken word and performance poetry — taught by one of the masters of the poetry slam from the Seattle Poetry Festival — are examples of the festival’s comprehensive approach to engaging folks in the art of performance.

Indeed, only at Whidbey Island Theatre Festival can children get the chance to be part of the Musical Theatre Showcase performed at the Island County Fair, where they give three performances to show off dance and vocal skills.

Eric Mullholland, WCT’s executive director and this year’s director of the Emerging Theater Artist program’s “Twelfth Night” production, said he’s encouraged by the success of the festival.

“My hope is that the festival will grow to include productions and classes happening in locations all over Whidbey Island,” he said.

Mulholland said he looks forward to the day when the festival can send theater educators out into the community to lead day-long workshops during community events, or to produce “theater-in-the-park.”

“My long-term vision is to see a two-week festival of performances offered by theater artists from Whidbey in multiple venues,” he added.

To that end, Dittmer said that in addition to the connection already established with partners such as Hedgebrook and Seattle’s Freehold Theatre Lab, the festival continually works to develop stronger, more far-reaching relationships with local schools, adult education programs, colleges and universities.

“In the future, I would like to see our curriculum include design, direction, marketing and arts management,” Dittmer said.

One of the main goals of the current conservatory is to provide young people with a high-quality, innovative theater arts education that is fun and engaging.

One festival program, the Emerging Theater Artist workshop, taught by Mulholland, WICA production director Deana Duncan and theater artist and intern Katie Woodzick, is a five-week session of theater education, rehearsal and performance.

This workshop is a good example of one of the main goals of the educational aspect of the festival; to give actors more than just a superficial experience of “putting on a show.”

Acting is a craft and anyone who wants to call themselves an actor needs skills, as do all craftsmen.

Students spend mornings in technique and skill building classes where they practice acting and vocal exercises, learn how to work in an ensemble, to create trust between their fellow actors and to read text honestly. Building on the skills developed in the morning, afternoons are dedicated to learning and rehearsing the shows.

Thanks to sponsorship from the Whidbey Giving Circle, Lindsay Communications and Intermec, the Emerging Theater Artist program was lucky enough to be able to present two large-cast plays.

“Twelfth Night” and “The Wrestling Season” are the two plays that students ages 12 through 18 are rehearsing.

Referring to the musical version of “Twelfth Night,” Mulholland said it’s quite a challenge to put on such a large show in one month’s time.

But the young cast has impressed him with their dedication and commitment.

Woodzick, who has been in charge of musical direction and choreography for the show, said the energy and maturity that the actors have brought to the process is exceptional.

“Working with these young theatre artists has been a source of joy, pride and amazement,” Woodzick said.

Mulholland agreed.

“I am constantly delighted by their good nature and creativity,” he said.

Duncan, too, gets to see what the slightly older actors are made of by taking on the challenging feat of directing “The Wrestling Season,” a play fraught with controversial issues familiar to teenage life.

Bullying, violence, homophobia, teen sex and love are some of the themes of the play with the oldest actors in the group wrestling with the script’s emotional minefield.

Such a volatile landscape is excellent exercise for any actor, and these educators keep their standards high to encourage students to rise to the challenge.

Duncan said the actors went through a three-day “boot camp” with South Whidbey High School wrestling coach Jim Thompson.

“After that, the actors’ work just got real,” she said.

“Their approach has been honest; they question their characters’ actions every day and come up with new reasons why they act the way they do. I think the cast is going to give a truthful and heartfelt depiction of what it’s like to grow up in small town America while in the highly competitive world of high school wrestling,” Duncan said.

All of the programs offered during the Whidbey Island Theatre Festival aim to celebrate the art of performance by bringing together artists and enthusiasts for both education and entertainment.

Years ago, Whidbey Children’s Theater founder Martha Murphy suggested a collaboration with the fellow Langley theater and WICA’s executive director Stacie Burgua never dreamed such an idea would eventually come to such perfect fruition.

“Our dream has grown and we are excited to develop this collaboration. What a terrific opportunity for two organizations to work together and create something bigger than ever,” Burgua said.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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