PORT TOWNSEND — How can this possibly be happening here, in this tiny place, Linda Dowdell wondered. She’d recently moved from Manhattan to the North Olympic Peninsula, wanting to live in a peaceful, rural place.
Dowdell, a composer, arranger, pianist and bandleader, had decided to go see some local theater. Seated inside the 66-seat Key City Playhouse, she was floored.
Watching Wendy MacLeod’s new play, “Birnham Woods,” she marveled at the quality of acting and the effects inside the theater in a town of fewer than 10,000.
That was spring 2009, Dowdell recalled. Since then, she’s become a creative collaborator at Key City Public Theatre, working with artistic director Denise Winter on the musicals “Here’s to the Ladies,” “Tin Pan Lady,” “Murder Ballad” and “Spirit of the Yule,” among others.
As it turned out, this past December’s “Yule” was Dowdell’s last big show in the Key City Playhouse. The COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order closed down the theater and her next gig, the musical “Always, Patsy Cline,” which had been slated for April.
Winter, along with Dowdell and the nonprofit theater’s crew, hope to reopen the playhouse at 419 Washington St. this summer or fall, but they’re not about to set any dates.
Instead, Winter is seeking to keep the organization become financially stable enough to stage its productions whenever the time comes.
KCPT Lifeline Campaign
This week, Winter launched the KCPT Lifeline Campaign, an effort to raise $45,000 by June 30.
She arrived at the figure based on an unprecedented balance sheet: some $200,000 in losses due to postponement of the first half of the 2020 season, alongside a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, a modest reserve and a empathetic landlord.
The SBA loan enabled the rehiring of a few staff members, but only for a couple of months. And landlord Dave Williams has discounted Key City’s rent 50 percent through June.
Winter said Williams took it a step further, eliminating the water bill while no one’s in the building. She said he told her that he knew his tenants would be hurting, and that he believed he should share the pain.
Yet if the playhouse can’t start welcoming theater-goers until August or later, those savings and the loan won’t be enough to tide Key City over, Winter said.
Hence the Lifeline Campaign, funding Winter will use to protect not only the playhouse but the jobs it will create once it’s open again.
She listed potential summertime offerings depending on state and local permits to restart:
• Theater camps and programs for youngsters.
• Performances of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” this year’s Teen Initiative play.
• Small-cast plays by local playwrights.
• A lean Shakespeare comedy in Chetzemoka Park.
• Short online clips from Key City Education Director Brendan Chambers and ensemble artist Maggie Jo Bulkley.
In the best-case scenario, the next full production will be a new version of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” written by Key City guest artist David Natale.
That show was supposed to go on in June; Winter hopes to see it take the stage this fall, followed by the comedy “The Game’s Afoot” for the holidays.
It’s a matter of overcoming hurdles known and unknown, she said.
When it’s safe, live theater will re-emerge in all of its passion and vitality, she added.
For information about the Lifeline Campaign, single and season tickets or plans for the coming year, go to keycitypublictheatre.org or email [email protected]. Donations may be mailed to Key City Public Theatre, 419 Washington St., Port Townsend, WA 98368.
Now and into the coming weeks, the stage is almost completely dark at the playhouse. Yet there is one light.
It shines, Winter said, “to mark our dedication to live theater, the people of our community, the artists who inspire, and the staff behind the scenes.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.