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Theater in the Valley: Several groups, one goal

Two different local theater groups were up to two very different things in the same building on Monday.

The Warehouse Theatre Company, the community’s theater stalwart since 1946, hosted auditions for its upcoming production of “Our Town” in the 24th Avenue building it bought as a permanent home early last year. Meanwhile in a separate room in the same building, Yakima Broadway Revue, the grassroots theater group that sprang up four years ago, was rehearsing for its annual summer revue, which opens tonight.

The timing overlap was a coincidence, but it underscored an oft-overlooked truth: There’s a lot of live theater here in the Yakima Valley. Even aside from high school productions, which are frequently outstanding, there’s a lot to choose from.

There’s the Warehouse, of course. And there’s The Capitol Theatre, the downtown Yakima venue that regularly brings Broadway and Broadway-quality touring shows to town. But there are also smaller, less-heralded organizations. In Ellensburg, Central Washington University’s Central Theatre Ensemble produces some of the region’s most challenging and rewarding live theater. In Prosser, the Valley Theater Company produces four-show seasons annually, continuing a Lower Valley tradition begun in 1960. And at Yakima Valley College, the YVC Playmasters regularly seek out new and different material to produce.

And, generally speaking, they all work together nicely. Though there’s plenty of overlap and cooperation, each organization has its artistic niche and its own audience.

“It’s fantastic,” said Stephen Clark, president of the Warehouse board and a film and theater tech teacher at Davis High School. “We’re kind of in the middle of an artistic renaissance here in the Valley. The more art we can produce in this community, the better. I don’t think of it at all as competition. We all feed into each other and rely on each other and contribute to each other.”

Indeed, you’ll find actors and crew members participating in multiple companies, sometimes simultaneously. Yakima Broadway Revue co-founder Kyle Hitchcock, for instance, has been in a bunch of Warehouse shows, including some since he started his own group.

“I love the Warehouse Theatre Company,” said Hitchcock, a 2014 Davis High School grad who teaches drama at the Melody Lane performing arts academy, housed in the Warehouse’s building. “I love doing shows there. I just wanted something different, something new.”

The revue group, which does its title show “Yakima Broadway Revue” each summer at the Warehouse, also does a few other revues throughout the year at the theater at Glenwood Square. Its casts skew younger than the Warehouse’s, which tend to run the gamut from kids to seniors. The revue group is mostly high school and college age, with the oldest member of the current production being 30. In fact, it started as a way for Hitchcock and his friends to just hang out a little more after graduating from high school.

“I had a bunch of friends from Naches, West Valley, Eisenhower,” he said. “And we wanted one last big hurrah.”

That show, in 2014, was supposed to be a one-off. But it was fun and it was popular, and the group didn’t see any reason not to repeat it a year later. Now it’s becoming an established thing. That bodes well for the entire theater community in the Yakima Valley, said Charlie Robin, president and CEO of The Capitol Theatre. If young people are putting together their own theater companies, that means there’s a new generation of people who will one day buy tickets to the Capitol’s Best of Broadway series and its other theatrical series.

“I’m just so thrilled with them,” he said of Yakima Broadway Revue. “It’s young people pulling this thing together and pulling it off just because they want to.”

Robin, who despite running the largest (by far) professional theater in the area is regularly seen at community theater performances, is constantly working to find a new audience while sustaining the Capitol’s appeal to its existing audience. That’s why there’s such a diversity of offerings there, including such disparate upcoming productions as “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” and “The SpongeBob Musical.”

“The intention is to maintain the legacy of The Capitol Theatre and the decades of presenting Broadway-style theater, and to expand the level of entertainment with shows our audience hasn’t heard of yet,” Robin said.

That’s been evident most clearly in the Capitol’s Edge Series, which has included more controversial or experimental productions. Those shows, which tend to take place in the Capitol’s smaller 4th Street Theatre space, aren’t for everyone. But they do tend to draw a younger audience. Then there’s the Capitol Family and Capitol Kids offerings, which draw younger audiences still.

There’s also the annual “High School Musical Theatre Showcase” in the 4th Street Theatre, a multi-school collaboration that gives high schoolers a look not just at what it’s like to produce theater outside of school but also a taste of how collaborative theater groups are in the Valley.

The latest and most striking manifestation of that collaborative spirit can be seen in the upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a Warehouse-YVC coproduction. There’s always been cooperation between the two entities, but this show, which opens Aug. 15, is the first real coproduction.

Clark was at YVC during rehearsals one night and saw more than 50 people — some from the Warehouse, some from YVC and even some from the Capitol — working on the production.

“It was just really cool to see,” he said.

Reach Pat Muir at pmuir@yakimaherald.com.

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