Key City Public Theatre artistic director Denise Winter hosts one-on-one Sidewalk Salons outside the Port Townsend playhouse. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Key City Public Theatre artistic director Denise Winter hosts one-on-one Sidewalk Salons outside the Port Townsend playhouse. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Sidewalk Salons provide insights for theatre

Key City renovating during pause

PORT TOWNSEND — With Key City Public Theatre dark, artistic director Denise Winter is coming out for sunlight — and that old thing called conversation.

Sidewalk Salons, twice-weekly chats outside the playhouse, give members of the public a chance to talk one-on-one with Winter about KCPT’s future.

“Artistically, what’s exciting is that everything is on the table,” said Winter, who is in her 16th year at the helm of KCPT, the nonprofit professional theater company in downtown Port Townsend. There’s no actual table; chairs are set up 6 feet apart on the walkway to KCPT’s front door.

The single seats filled up immediately when the chats began in August. Winter said the Sidewalk Salons are a way she can connect with the community — as safely as possible — during this period of uncertainty.

The Sidewalk Salons are likely to continue Tuesdays and Thursdays well into September. Winter said she’s working on the schedule and hoping for good weather.

More details about the salons and KCPT’s activities can be found at

In May and June, KCPT mounted the Lifeline Campaign, an effort to raise $45,000 to cover expenses for the next three months.

The campaign was a rousing success, Winter said. But with Jefferson County still in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan and COVID-19 infections continuing, she and her staff must make that revenue cover not only three months, but six or even nine.

Yet Winter is upbeat about how KCPT’s closure, while it feels bizarre in the middle of summer, opens up time for the salons: time to imagine new ways of doing things.

Local playwright Doug Given signed up for one of the first Sidewalk Salons. During their discussion, he and Winter, seated apart and wearing face masks, talked about PlayFest and about dinner theater, which KCPT traditionally presents twice a year.

Winter encouraged Given to take risks in the scripts he submits to both, and she added she’s looking at expanding dinner theater, which takes place at Alchemy Bistro downtown.

Then the conversation turned to one of the Sidewalk Salons’ key questions: What does your dream night of theater look like?

“At this point,” Given quipped, it would be “having a night of theater. Whatever it is, I’ll come see it.”

Winter then asked about his favorite productions from KCPT’s recent past. Quickly, Given recalled Shakespeare’s tragic “King Lear” (2014), Richard Dresser’s comedy “Wolf at the Door” (2018) and the 2017 Teen Initiative show by Ian Coates, “Promposal.”

When the playhouse does reopen, possibly in early to mid-2021, it’s likely to host, among other events, the 25th annual PlayFest, a celebration of local playwrights and new work.

The updated festival could have more staged readings compressed into one week instead of two, Winter said.

Also out on the horizon: new, short plays and monologues by local writers, and KCPT’s new telling of “Around the World in 80 Days;” guest artist David Natale has written the show with inspiration from the Jules Verne novel.

The theater space itself will look and feel new, Winter added: Renovations in the works include new and added seats, a box office behind glass, a new ventilation system and touch-free bathrooms.

KCPT’s reserves, plus grant funding, are earmarked for those improvements, while the Lifeline Campaign money pays basic expenses such as rent and utilities. The theater’s landlord, Dave Williams, has reduced the rent by half and eliminated the water bill during the pandemic.

Winter noted, too, that theater-goers have kept up their support. Local residents as well as artists and patrons across the theater’s national network contributed to the Lifeline Campaign, and she’s opened mail containing gifts of various sizes in the weeks since.

Those donations help keep KCPT’s staff employed and working on the renovations, Winter said.

“We will re-imagine,” she said, “and we will re-emerge.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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