If ever you were struck by a passing fancy to rank local theatrical groups by their longevity, the Spokane Civic Theatre would probably emerge as the most likely frontrunner. Yet there's another organization, slightly less visible, that nudges it out of the top spot: the Spokane Children's Theatre.
The Junior League of Spokane established the Spokane Children's Theatre in 1946 — one year before the Civic, in fact, making the SCT the oldest theater organization in the area. Over the past seven decades, the organization has evolved from what was, broadly speaking, high-school drama teachers and their students performing in ad hoc venues into a more structured, donation-funded nonprofit with professional involvement, a solid volunteer base, and quite recently, its own dedicated venue in the Logan neighborhood.
As part of that evolutionary process, it's enjoyed several good years and persevered through challenging ones, always with a view to carrying out a straightforward mission of "wanting to share theater with as many people as possible," as Kyle McFarlane puts it.
McFarlane currently serves on the SCT's nine-member board. The story of how he came to occupy that seat might have a ring of familiarity to the more than 7,500 children and adults the organization has welcomed since its inception.
"I did a show at Spokane Children's Theatre about 15-plus years ago, so I was familiar with it. And then as my daughter started expressing an interest in theater and acting, I suggested that she take a look at it. As soon as I walked in, they said they needed an adult man to be in the show as well. It was the last night of auditions, nobody had tried out yet, and so they recruited me to play the king. In the end, my daughter and I both ended up being in Enchanted Sleeping Beauty," he says.
"From there I went on to do a couple more shows with her and get involved with the board to help support the theater. For me, as a parent, it was a great experience to be on the stage with my daughter and to be able to share in the fun she was having."
That experience, he says, captures what's special about SCT.
"One of the things I really like about this theater is that they've been more willing to give newcomers a chance, even if it's just a small role. Once you can spark that fire inside some of these kids, that really gets them going. That's one of the things I really appreciate as a parent — to be able to see them get started and get that chance to be onstage." His own daughter, now 12, has done four shows in the past 18 months.
There are, of course, several other kid-focused theaters in the area, including Christian Youth Theater, Theatre Arts for Children and the Spokane Civic Theatre Academy.
"They all have different philosophies," explains SCT board president Cathy McKinney, and the divergence, however slight, allows parents to find the most comfortable fit for them as well as their children.
"We have so much talent here in town that we can support all these different theaters," she says. "At Spokane Children's Theatre, periodically we'll have classes and camps, but that's not our focus. The show is actually the focus. Plus our shows are much smaller, so the kids get more stage time."
SCT employs professional designers to help expose the participants to a variety of skill levels. Spokane talents Patrick Treadway and Troy Nickerson have directed in the past. Funds permitting, it also commissions original works. The first production McKinney ever directed for SCT was Sindee Lou Ella, "a hilarious spoof of Cinderella" by Ken Boles, a resident at SCT from 2010-14. For its current season, the organization is staging Treasure Island, adapted and directed by Donna Skoog, a drama teacher in the nearby Riverside School District.
Both McFarlane and McKinney are especially excited about the 70th season lineup, which features a series of household-name shows as well as an eight-week improv class. It kicks off Oct. 9 with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Later productions include The Wizard of Oz, Seussical, Charlotte's Web and Mary Poppins. ♦
Through Oct. 10
ROCK OF AGES
The cultural shame of the 1980s has faded from collective memory, leaving a void that only nostalgia can fill. And what better vehicle than a jukebox musical reveling in the garishness of the decade's music, its personalities and its fashion? Rock of Ages parodies all these excesses with a self-aware plot built around power ballads and anthemic odes to hedonism by the likes of Twisted Sister, Starship, Foreigner, Journey and Night Ranger. "The West Coast premiere of this show has been a blast to direct," says Executive Artistic Director George Green. "This title alone convinced several regional performers to audition for the entire season. Our goal is to have people out of their seats and rocking out with us by the end of the production. In one '80s word: It's rad." The Modern Theater Coeur d'Alene, $23-$27, Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm (E.J. IANNELLI)
Sept. 25-Oct. 11
OTHER DESERT CITIES
Tolstoy famously wrote that happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way. The Wyeths and their relations easily fall into the latter category, with a unique unhappiness that Jon Robin Baitz's Tony- and Pulitzer-nominated play teases out over the course of a Christmas reunion in 2004. Some of their strife is political. Some of it is personal. And some of it comes down to sleeping dogs that even old rivals would agree are better left undisturbed. The Modern Spokane, $20-$24, Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm (EJI)
Oct. 16-Nov. 15
EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL
A groovy, gory adaptation of the eponymous film franchise directed by Sam Raimi, Evil Dead: The Musical takes the camp charm and cheap scares of the low-budget cult trilogy and puts them to music. Audiences will be able to follow Ash and his buddies to a remote cabin, where they inadvertently unleash the dark forces that bring out their inner deadites. There are catchy numbers, memorable one-liners, and plenty of fake blood. On that last note: Those nearest the stage will want to brace themselves for splatter. Spokane Civic Theatre, $27, Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm (EJI)
RUDOLPH THE MUSICAL
Before Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on TV in 1964, its creators didn't foresee the glowing — if you'll pardon the pun — popular reception and widespread cultural cachet the stop-motion Rankin/Bass animation enjoys today. In fact, the original Rudolph figurine was given away and wound up as a Christmas centerpiece on some family's table. For a more life-sized experience that pays fitting reverence to this holiday tradition, families will want to get a jump start on the Yuletide season at this nationally touring, music-filled stage adaptation featuring all the beloved characters, including Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and The Misfit Toys. INB Performing Arts Center, $29-$49, 7 pm (EJI)
RED HOT PATRIOT: THE KICK-ASS WIT OF MOLLY IVINS
She called Bill Clinton "weaker than bus-station chili" and is supposed to have bestowed the moniker "Shrub" on George W. Bush, a man she unabashedly characterized as a corporate shill masquerading as a politician. She was Molly Ivins, a respected political columnist with a take-no-prisoners prose style. When she died in 2007, eight years after she was initially diagnosed with breast cancer, she left behind a legacy of scathing but insightful commentary. "Molly Ivins was a Texan through and through, and also a progressive Democrat with a passion for civil rights," says Ron Ford, who's directing Margaret and Allison Engel's Red Hot Patriot. "Her biting wit, straightforward wisdom and sparkling personality make her a fascinating historical figure that we'll celebrate in an evening of theater." Stage Left, $10, Fri-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm (EJI)
STAGE II SHORTS: A FESTIVAL OF SHORT PLAYS 2015
This popular, student-driven production is really a two-evening festival featuring a different mix of short plays each night. The works aren't original, but they are chosen, cast and directed by the students themselves for a fresh-faced take on material both familiar and obscure. With a heady mix of comedic and dramatic works clocking in at a maximum of 10 minutes each, it's the theatrical equivalent of a mad-dash tapas sampler. The performance space can only accommodate about 90 people, though, so be sure to arrive early to claim your ticket. Cowles Auditorium Stage II at Whitworth University, free and open to the public, 7 pm (EJI)