News Column

Setting the stage

June 5, 2013


June 05--WENATCHEE -- Back before the days of televisions, iPods and even movie theaters, Wenatchee Valley residents found entertainment in live theater.

Performing arts are still alive and well today in the valley with several ongoing theater groups as well as school performances.

The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center celebrates more than a century of theater production and performing arts in the region with its new exhibit "Wenatchee Valley Theater -- Then and Now," opening Friday.

"We want to show that theater is really active here, and always has been," said Bill Rietveldt, the museum's curator of exhibits. He was still putting the show together this week and he had a lot of history to work with.

The show's official opening has been synchronized with the First Fridays ArtsWalk, from 5 to 8 p.m. Those crazy ladies from the Apple City Roller Derby will be skating around downtown in costume Friday evening to lead people from the various participating ArtsWalk businesses to the museum.

Apple City Improv -- formerly Mission Improv -- will be at the museum after 5 p.m. Friday to offer some audience participation and improvised fun. Museum entry is free all day Friday.

"How often does a small museum like ours have the Mona Lisa on display next to the Venus de Milo," Rietveldt said with a laugh, pointing to props that came from the Music Theater of Wenatchee's 2001 production of "Annie."

Rietveldt has pulled in theater props, posters, costumes and memorabilia from local theater companies past and present. There's horses from "Annie Get Your Gun," larger than life size witches from "The Tempest," a hat with rabbit ears from "Harvey." Captain Ahab's peg-leg will be there, so is the cowardly lion's Medal of Bravery from "The Wizard of Oz" and a flower covered guitar from "Seussical: The Musical."

Items were gathered from the Music Theater of Wenatchee, Leavenworth Summer Theater, Allied Arts, Mission Creek Players, Short Shakespearians, Wells House Players, Icicle Times Radio Hour, high school productions and more.

Photographs date back as early as Wenatchee High School's 1907 production of "Mr. Bob." Another photo shows the Elks Minstrels lined up for a 1923 Apple Blossom Festival performance. A 1929 photos shows the cast of "When Men Marry" produced by the Cashmere chapter of the men's Christian organization, Order of Knights of Pythias. There were no women in the cast and the photo shows many men dressed as women and some men painted in blackface. Information on the photo states that the play was directed, however, by Miss Esther Dee Lawig.

Outside of the schools, Music Theater of Wenatchee is probably the oldest still performing theater group in the area. The group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011 with a musical review of songs from dozens of musicals the group has performed since it opened with "Rosalinda" in 1961. The first play was staged in the Pioneer Junior High School gym, one of many locations the fledgling theater group worked until finally getting a permanent home in the Riverside Playhouse in 1997.

"It's amazing how many people in the area are still involved in theater in one way or another," Rietveldt said. "It's been fun having people bring things in. We have so much stuff that trying to make it all work visually has been challenging."

Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151


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