By Matthew Nash
Olympic Peninsula News Group
SEQUIM — After 10 years of shows, Readers Theatre Plus is disbanding.
Since its inception, volunteers ranging from amateurs to seasoned stage actors performed an array of play readings, musicals and comedies for the nonprofit, which donated nearly $120,000 from these many shows to local nonprofits and high school graduates’ scholarships in Sequim and Port Angeles.
“We’re all at peace with the decision,” said chairwoman Sue Valnes in a letter released earlier this month after the board made its decision in December.
“It doesn’t mean we’re all happy. Things change, and that’s what happened here. No regrets. It’s just the time has come.”
Jim Dries, a founding and current board member, said the decision was made mostly due to a lack of manpower but not a lack of community support.
Dries said the agency couldn’t recruit enough board members due to scheduling and other factors and find people willing and/or able to do heavy lifting in and out of venues.
Both Dries and Valnes said viewership remained strong, including their group’s last events, “A Nice Family Gathering” in November 2016 and a celebration in August 2016 for volunteers and a commemoration of the late musical director Dewey Ehling, who led music for many of the group’s shows.
Readers Theatre Plus dates its first show to a reading of excerpts of Rebecca Redshaw’s novel “Dear Jennifer” on Sept. 21, 2006, at Unity in the Olympics in Port Angeles — to benefit Planned Parenthood, formerly Family Planning of Clallam County — and Sept. 22, 2006, at Sequim High School to benefit Parenting Matters.
Redshaw said it was her suggestion to use her story. With the help of other original board members, that led to the creation of Readers Theatre Plus.
A part of the group’s vision was to perform simply with music stands and microphones and give proceeds to local charities, she said.
Over the years, the group performed many of Redshaw’s original plays, and the group hosted dozens upon dozens of shows in and around Sequim and Port Angeles.
The intent was to avoid using a permanent venue so that more ticket revenues would support local charities, group members said.
Dries said shows were done in Olympic Theatre Arts’ old facility and in the Port Angeles Community Playhouse, but never with the intention to compete.
“[Readers Theatre] was something nobody was doing,” he said.
His wife, Carol Swarbrick Dries, said in a previous interview that the group chose the platform because it allowed people with limited time, difficulty in memorizing lines and/or people who have never been on stage before an opportunity to perform.
Early on, organizers said they paid rental fees and productions costs out of the box office. Later, Gilbert and Sullivan shows served as summer fundraisers along with silent auctions to help the organization stay afloat and help other nonprofits.
Swarbrick Dries said one of the most memorable parts of Readers Theatre Plus was the generosity and positive attitude of the public.
“Readers Theatre Plus wouldn’t have lasted two years without this community,” she said.
She felt the collaborations between the group and Ehling and the Peninsula Singers is what helped accelerate Readers Theatre Plus and its support of the community and bring more awareness to local businesses that would in turn donate to auctions.
She enjoyed giving out annual scholarships to area students going into the arts.
“What a feeling,” Swarbrick Dries said. “It’s just a reassurance to say you excelled and you’re being honored and appreciated.”
Valnes said the appreciation event in August was memorable for her and many others as they honored Ehling, who died Aug. 7 of pneumonia.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Valnes said.
“It wasn’t just a sadness but more about his giving. He touched so many people. I think that’s what Readers Theatre meant. It was the sense of touching the community. We benefited greatly from what he brought.”
Dries also appreciated that the group did smaller shows such as “When the Rain Stops Falling,” which he said was “a bit more challenging and those who saw it loved it.”
Overall, Valnes said the group has been about camaraderie.
“People are thrilled to see other people they know,” she said.
“We don’t think of this as a door closing. We think of it as an opportunity to help other people,” Valnes said.
“It’s all pretty fresh for us. We’re kind of searching the community to see how we can contribute, small, medium or large. It doesn’t have to be theater. We’re just searching.”
The group has funds still available and will make a decision on possibly making donations later this year, Valnes said.
To read more on Readers Theatre Plus, visit readers theatreplus.com.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.