The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Mike Ferrians
the Times 

The Liberty Theater is temporarily closed, but its creative heart is still beating

 

Lane Gwinn

When the Times last wrote about the Liberty Theater in Dayton, we described the efforts and planning that went into the staging of their celebratory 20th anniversary variety show. Set to open on Friday, March 20, 2020, the event was sadly derailed by the coronavirus.

The program was to feature favorite musical numbers from the Touchet Valley Arts Center's live theater productions over the past 20 years and was being directed by Peggy and Cara James.

Since that time, theater staff and board have been actively fundraising, getting organized and planning for the many different outcomes this pandemic is throwing their way.

Michael Ferrians, the Liberty Theater's Manager, happily recounted the organization's recent fundraising wins: a $5,000 grant from Humanities Washington, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act; a $1,000 grant from the Innovia Foundation and generous donations from local supporters Michael and Cathy Lee Haight who gave $10,000, and Skip and Julia Mead who donated $5,000.

Ferrians noted with gratitude that... "...we are still getting checks in the mail from faithful patrons who are part of the community theater family. It means that people are thinking of us and still believing in what do, and we still have an important place in their hearts."

Thinking ahead to the future of upcoming events at the Theater involves putting together multiple scenarios depending where Columbia County is in terms of Washington State's Safe Start plan.

Next up on the current schedule is their summer enrichment program which includes the summer children's film festival in July, and the annual visit of the Missoula Children's Theater; set to take place August 3-8.

Continuing with those events depends on what the situation looks like on July 1.

Following those events on the decision matrix is the fate of the big fall musical. While the staff and board at the theater were hoping to stage Fiddler on the Roof, as it was one of the Theaters most popular shows, and features well-loved and highly recognizable music with a powerful theme of community, it turns out the publishing house that licenses the play had it locked down due to a 'nearby' production in Boise, ID.

Fiddler was also hoped-for as a tribute to the late Steve Edwards "who was at the forefront of the starting the community theater program when the Liberty Theater was reopened," said Ferrians. Edwards last role on stage was as Tevye.

Instead, The Sound of Music is slated to go on stage. The popular stage play and later film, with music composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, will no doubt be as thrilling and impressive as last year's production of Mary Poppins.

Ferrians said "The fall show hinges on the next thing, if we're successful in getting to Phase 3 by July, we may be able to go forward with the fall show. Phase 3 would still require that the production works with groups of fewer than fifty people, and the audience would need to be kept to 50 percent of capacity." This would provide maximum audience seating of about 65 people and Ferrians is uncertain whether this would be financially feasible.

Another option going forward for the theater is if they were able to be released from their Sound of Music contract and move to a self-written show from their archives, thus saving licensing fees and bringing the cost of producing a show down.

Ferrians credits the hard work of the staff and board as they work together during these unusual times to ensure a future for the theater.

The staff is supported by the Board of Directors including President Kristine Takamura, Vice President Dave Molesh and Dr. Michael Luce as Treasurer.

"Michael Luce has been doing a bang-up job, not only by keeping our projections solid, but also helping us understand where we are with our finances and setting us up for our grant applications," noted Ferrians.

A request is in for a Core grant from the Sherwood Trust in Walla Walla and for a grant from ArtsWA for funding connected to the National Endowment for the Arts. The Theater was also approved for the Payroll Protection Program through the CARES Act of the federal government.

As for Ferrians himself? "I'm doing OK. As is well known, this ('Stay Safe, Stay Home' order) had been hard on the extroverted part of the society. I am a showman, I am a performer, I've been trying to adapt. It's been challenging emotionally to adjust to being shut down because you feel like you are being shut down for who you are as a person."

Ferrians has been expressing himself on Facebook by sharing performances of himself singing and playing the piano on his personal page.

Ferrians is very grateful for his community, "I think Dayton has been doing great on being smart and being safe and being healthy. I think people have been really good about taking care of each other and about supporting our small businesses and self-employed people."

If conquering COVID-19 was as simple as washing one's hands frequently, and minimizing risk by wearing a cloth face mask, no doubt the shows at the Liberty would go on.

 

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