Olympic Theatre Arts History
1980–1983: The Dungeness Schoolhouse Days
Olympic Theatre Arts had its beginning when a small group of thespians headed by Sequim resident Richard Waites decided to mount a performance of Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett at the Dungeness Schoolhouse. The play was staged in March of 1980. After the performance, Richard asked those in attendance to stay, if interested, to discuss the possible founding of a community theater in Sequim. One of those who remained after that show was Olivia Shea, who is still directing for OTA as of this writing. Richard Waites also continues to be an active participant of OTA even though he moved away from Sequim in 2014.
Thus Olympic Theatre Arts was conceived. There followed three more productions under the OTA banner—all staged at the Dungeness Schoolhouse.
1983–2001: The ‘Howard Wood Memorial Theatre’ Days
After a loyal following had been established, Richard Waites began to spearhead an effort to rent and renovate the “Odd Fellows Hall” located at 132-1/2 West Washington Street on the second floor above a retail store. Volunteers raised money for the renovation by staging at the high school the old fashioned melodrama Only An Orphan Girl by Henning Nelms and directed by Waites. Through these efforts and community outreach, OTA also became the grateful recipient of a generous donation from the family of the late Howard Wood, a former Seattle booking agent for performers. The Wood family also owned Sequim’s only variety store at the time, Southwoods. As a result of these efforts, the group was able to install a stage with theatre seating, a lighting booth, and a dressing room. The facility was christened the “Howard Wood Memorial Theatre” and opened in 1983 with Neil Simon’s The Last of the Red Hot Lovers directed by Kit Kitchen.
Olympic Theatre Arts continued to build on its success for more than ten years at the “Howard Wood” location.
2001–2010: The OTA Community Center Days
In 1996, Sequim city officials released a visionary plan for future growth and development called the “Sequim Comprehensive Plan.” The number one need expressed in that plan was a ground level Performing Arts Center. Olympic Theatre Arts had achieved success! The 23-step climb to the second floor Howard Wood venue was no longer acceptable, and safety issues had become a problem. The search and feasibility studies began, and soon a building was offered for sale that was believed would meet the need. In 2001 The Boys and Girls Club announced that they were selling the former Trinity United Methodist Church building constructed in 1929 in favor of a new facility that they were planning. Elaine Caldwell, OTA board chair at the time, decided to test community support by setting up a booth at the Farmers Market to solicit sufficient funding to make a down payment on that building, $25,000. She did it in one day!
The following years were spent raising money to renovate and bring the 70+-year old structure up to current code. Funds were also needed to design and implement plans for not only a live theatre venue but a facility to accommodate any type of community gathering. It was not an easy road but OTA managed to navigate through a variety of obstacles. This was an immensely busy period, filled with fundraising and grant writing, designing and planning, internal management conflicts, and the ongoing struggle to comply with the city building department’s rules and regulations pertaining to the permitting of an historic building.
Community involvement never waned. OTA received continuous financial support from its leaders and in-kind donations of materials and labor from such groups as the Rotary Clubs and Carpenters for Christ. OTA had reason to be proud of its accomplishments when the volunteer organization successfully completed the three-phase renovation and addition in 2010. The Grand Opening of the expanded facility featured a production of Caberet, directed by Larry Harwood with a cast of 37!
Although this period was a time of transition and growth and upheaval, Olympic Theatre Arts continued to mount productions on a regular schedule, a total of 49 shows. Many of these were directed by staunch OTA advocates and lovers of theatre art including Marianne Trowbridge directing Lend Me a Tenor and Larry Harwood directing Nunsense, Tuna Christmas and Little Shop of Horrors. At times, for various reasons, the venue has had to change—even one time in the middle of a run of Auntie Mame—but as they say, “The Show Must Go On!” and it does!
2010 to Present: Olympic Theatre Arts Center
Olympic Theatre Arts has continued to provide solid community theatre opportunities by mounting approximately nine shows per season featuring five Main Stage productions as well as many second stage shows, benefits and spotlight performances, taking full advantage of their beautiful new venue. And in keeping its promise to serve the community as a cultural center OTA has opened its Center to such groups as Clallam Mosaic, an organization that works toward “empowering people with developmental disorders for a more viable community.” Mosaic uses the OTA Center at no charge to conduct theatre classes for these individuals, culminating in a final performance on the Main Stage. The Center also provides space for the Olympic Peninsula Mens Chorus, a group whose mission it is “to provide an opportunity for men to learn, enjoy and promote singing barbershop harmony.” In return, the Chorus presents a benefit concert for OTA each year. In addition, many organizations have held fundraising events for various charities at the OTA Center.
Olympic Theatre Arts continues to grow and to move into the future with its vision of contributing to the growth and development of individuals through the magic of live theatre.