Theatre Co. new name of troupe
Last updated 10/9/2017 at 6:29pm
DAVENPORT—In an effort to double-down on its mission to serve all of Lincoln County, Davenport Theatrical has announced a new name, Wheatland Theatre Company, and a season of four upcoming productions, with performances throughout the region.
Following last July’s “Big Fish,” which saw record-high ticket sales, the company announced that it would discontinue producing new shows until more volunteers could be found. Soon after, dozens of responses started pouring in from interested volunteers. Then a small miracle happened. In December 2016, Managing Director Drew Kowalkowski was notified that the tiny nonprofit had been awarded a $10,000 Challenge America Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was one of just two Eastern Washington organizations, along with the Spokane Symphony, to receive funding from the federal agency this year. It became clear that the show must go on.
The company is one of just two nonprofit arts organizations serving Lincoln County’s roughly 10,000 residents (along with the Harrington Opera House Association). “Our mission has always been to serve the entire county,” explained Kowalkowski, “but we haven’t been very successful in that.” For “Big Fish,” 61 percent of ticket orders came from Davenport residents. Orders from the rest of Lincoln County combined accounted for only 11 percent. The vast majority of actors and other volunteers have hailed from Davenport. “We held auditions in Spokane last summer,” recalled Artistic Director Karen Brewster, “because we simply couldn’t recruit enough people locally. Both of the men we can usually count on to show up were busy!”
In order to attract more volunteers and audience members from a broader geographical area, it became clear that a new name was in order. According to Kowalkowski, “We wanted a name that kept us tied to the communities that we serve in Lincoln County, while at the same time not putting a specific geographic boundary on it that would exclude anyone.” The name also pays homage to Wheatland Players, a local troupe that performed in Davenport in the 80s and 90s.
But changing the organization’s name isn’t enough to attract a more participants from neighboring communities. So the company is hitting the road. In October, auditions will be held throughout the county for “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” and performances are planned for December in Davenport, Reardan, Odessa and Wilbur. The play is set in a 1940s radio station as radio actors perform the story of George Bailey from the classic holiday film as a radio broadcast in front of a studio audience. The theater hopes to attract enough interest from both audiences and performers to make performances in these communities an annual event.
In March 2018, Wheatland will bring Missoula Children’s Theatre to Davenport for the third year with performances of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Fifty to 60 local students will be cast in the musical with rehearsals after school all week, culminating in performances on Friday and Saturday. Students from all area schools, kindergarten through high school, are welcome to audition.
Later in the spring, the company will produce “The Big Meal,” by Dan LeFranc. Spanning nearly 80 years in roughly 90 minutes, the play follows the extraordinary story of an ordinary American family, told entirely through five generations of family meals. One weekend of performances will be held in Davenport, before the show moves to downtown Spokane for two more weeks. All performances will be presented in a intimate “black box” configuration with audience surrounding the action. Seating will be limited.
The season will culminate in July with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” This will be the third production of the company’s unique Guest Artist Program, which brings professional theatre artists from around the country to work alongside and mentor local volunteers. The musical will be helmed by director Lee Mikeska-Gardner, artistic director of The Nora Theatre Company in the Boston area. It will also feature the work of three other professionals, including at least one actor to be hired from auditions in New York City next spring. The rest of the cast and crew will be made up of local volunteers who will get the opportunity to learn from the pros during their six-week stay in Lincoln County, But if you think you know the award-winning 1943 classic, think again. WTC’s fresh take on this classic American musical will be as rich and complex as the great tapestry of America itself and will feature an original, Americana-inspired acoustic orchestration of Rogers and Hammerstein’s sweeping score.
Full information about these productions, including audition announcements, performance dates, and locations will be announced this fall on the organization’s website (WheatlandTheatre.org) and Facebook page.
Wheatland Theatre Company is a community theater company and Lincoln County’s only nonprofit producing arts organization. The company has mounted 16 productions since 2008. Drew Kowalkowski is the managing director and Karen Brewster is the artistic director.