The cast of “Stages” gather during a rehearsal at Sequim Middle School. From left are Jenny Schaper, Jeff Ryser, Ryan Chen, Phyllis Bernard, Dave McInnes, Max Bidasha and Marilyn Kaler. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

The cast of “Stages” gather during a rehearsal at Sequim Middle School. From left are Jenny Schaper, Jeff Ryser, Ryan Chen, Phyllis Bernard, Dave McInnes, Max Bidasha and Marilyn Kaler. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

‘Stages’ brings cancer survival stories to Olympic Theatre Arts

New play by Max Bidasha opens Jan. 9

SEQUIM — A cancer survivor tells of his process of dealing with life in his play “Stages,” which will have its world debut at Olympic Theatre Arts from Jan. 9 to Jan.12.

Sequim resident Max Bidasha wrote the play from his own experiences with cancer. He is a current cancer patient with stage 4 epithelioid sarcoma that led to the amputation of his left hand earlier this year.

He was inspired to write this — his first play — after seeing a performance of “Newsroom” on Broadway.

Performances at the theater at 414 N. Sequim Ave. will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 to Jan. 11 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 12. Tickets are available for all shows but the final one, which is sold out.

They are $10 in advance at brownpapertickets.com and $15 at the door.

A question-and-answer period is planned after each performance.

Personal story

Bidasha wrote the play over several months, mostly at Hurricane Coffee in Sequim, which has since become a sponsor for his show.

“Stages” also serves as Bidasha’s directorial and acting debut. Though this is his own cancer story, the play incorporates stories from other cancer patients as well.

While several of the actors in “Stages” are in their first theatrical production, too, Bidasha is supported by several veterans of theater in the area, including Dave McInnes, Sequim Middle School theater teacher and a regular at OTA both on stage and behind the scenes as a stage manager.

McInnes’ primary role for the play is as Bidasha’s stage manager, running the production from backstage, making sure actors make their entrances on time and overseeing any scenery or costume changes as needed.

He will be on stage at times as well, playing a character known as Lalo who Bidasha describes as “nerdy and smart, but hesitant.”

One of the standout things that has come out of the production for Bidasha is how close the cast has become; almost everyone involved has been touched by cancer in some way, and that made the bond fast and easy.

“There’s a lot less awkward getting-to-know-you stuff when you have that to get it all out of the way,” Bidasha said.

The rest of the cast includes Marliyn Kaler, who plays Tulla; Phyllis Bernard-May, who plays Irene; Ryan Chen, who plays Christoph; Jeff Ryser, who holds several roles as well as helping McInness backstage; and Jenny Schaper, who plays Rosie.

A collection of pictures of people from around the Sequim community who have had cancer will be on display at Olympic Theatre Arts during the Jan. 9-12 run of the play, according to the producer, writer and director of “Stages,” Max Bidasha. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

A collection of pictures of people from around the Sequim community who have had cancer will be on display at Olympic Theatre Arts during the Jan. 9-12 run of the play, according to the producer, writer and director of “Stages,” Max Bidasha. (Conor Dowley/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Community support

Bidasha said he has been touched by the community support for the show; OTA representatives have told him that the 150 tickets sold by early December for the four-night run in January are the most ever sold for a show a month ahead of time.

“That tells me how important this message is for people,” Bidasha said, who added he’s very appreciative of how much people have been reaching out to help.

“I’ve had so many people ask what we need, what they can do,” he said. “And having places like [Sequim Middle School] give us a space to rehearse has been so good.”

Several members of the community also have given Bidasha photographs of friends and family members who have had cancer that will be on display at OTA during the play, and audience members will be given a chance to share their own stories about cancer in writing.

Several local organizations have offered financial support as well, including Hurricane Coffee, Olympic Stained Glass, Cedar Greens and L3 Healing.

“I didn’t reach out too much, because it’s very important to me that I’m going to places that want to bring people together and be healthy,” Bidasha said.

________

Conor Dowley 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 cdowley@sequimgazette.com.

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