In 1959, a few members of the Grays Harbor Civic Choir decided to form an acting troupe.
Sixty years, four buildings and 290 plays later, the Driftwood Players are celebrating their “diamond jubilee” this weekend with food, fundraising and … Patsy Cline.
The event will take place Saturday evening, in conjunction with opening night of the theater’s 2019-20 season. The featured production is “Always … Patsy Cline.”
The Driftwood Playhouse — the troupe’s home for the past 30 years, at Third and I streets in Aberdeen — is almost a century old. It needs a paint job, and many of its 67 windows are leaking, according to Driftwood board member Debbie Scoones.
“There are 55 windows on the bottom (floor), and they all need to be either reglazed or repaned,” she said. Just fixing the 12 portholes around the mansard roof will cost about $48,000.
Scoones said the nonprofit’s board has secured a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, but it requires Driftwood to raise some of its own money as well.
The local fundraising goal is $40,000. A recent private gathering of local businesspeople brought in $9,000 of that, Scoones said, and the board hopes to raise as much of the rest as possible during Saturday’s celebration.
The evening’s hors d’oeuvres will be catered by Aberdeen natural health consultant Pam Drake. The menu will include such tidbits as stuffed mushrooms, fresh fruit and Thai chicken meatballs. Wine, beer and champagne also will be served.
“We’ll have that from 6:30 to 7:30, and then we’ve asked Gary Morean to do a little history on the building … what the theater’s about, what the fundraiser’s about,” said Scoones.
Morean, son-in-law of one of the founding members, continues to be active with the Driftwood Players.
After his presentation, attendees will take their seats for the play. In this musical production written by Ted Swindley, Driftwood veteran Patty Sundstrom will sing 27 of Patsy Cline’s songs. Kathe Rowe directs and co-stars as Houston housewife Louise Segar, an extreme fan who becomes a lifelong friend.
During intermission, more finger foods and desserts will be served — along with birthday cake.
A $50 donation will buy one ticket plus food and drinks on Saturday; $100 will buy two or more. Advance reservations are required. Anyone interested may contact Scoones to get on the list.
One of the original Driftwood members was attorney Ernie Ingram, who also co-founded the law firm of Ingram, Zelasko and Goodwin in Aberdeen. Morean, his son-in-law, has been a partner in that firm and active with the Driftwood Players since 1981.
“I was involved in the last show at the Hoquiam theater,” said Morean, before the troupe moved to its current home in Aberdeen.
The all-volunteer theater group started out in 1959, playing at various tourist spots in and around Westport — including a renovated carriage house at Cohassett Beach that belonged to Kathy Hogan, a local columnist in the 1940s and ’50s. They even did a production at the old Ocean Shores convention center in 1961, long before the current one was built.
The group’s first long-term home was a remodeled storage building near the old Weyerhaeuser plant in Cosmopolis. It had no backstage, no wings, barely any space beyond the stage and seating, said Morean.
“For our first show there, ‘See How They Run,’ there’s a story about Dick Lane, who was a college professor at Grays Harbor. He was in the show, and he had a thing where he had to exit in his underwear and then come back in on the other side. But since there was no backstage, he had to run around the building in his underwear!” laughed Morean. “Apocryphal or true? I don’t know, but I tell that story all the time.”
After seven years there, the players moved into the former Swedish-Finn Temperance Hall on B Street in Hoquiam, where they stayed for 15 years.
That one had a bit more space and a “thrust stage,” with seating up close around three sides of the platform. “Sometimes actors missed their entrance and ended up in someone’s lap,” said Morean.
The current playhouse, purchased in 1981, was originally a meeting hall for Christian Scientists.
“Ernie was a Christian Scientist growing up, so this was his church,” said Morean.
There’s plenty of space in this one — backstage, dressing rooms, even a large downstairs area for storage and other uses. But the troupe had to do a lot of work to get the building operational as a theater.
They left a lot of the stained glass intact and even kept some of the pews, said Morean; but the stage, sound system and seating area were built from scratch, with financial and expert aid from local service clubs. For example, architect Will Foster, a Lion, oversaw the design of the 246-seat shell.
“A friend and I painted the ceiling. That’s my gray ceiling!” said Morean. “And Ernie and I together built all of the platforms the stage is made out of.”
Over the years, the Driftwood Players have done their best to choose audience-pleasing productions that they could handle given their limited space and resources. Classic musical productions with massive ensembles aren’t feasible in this theater (“Oklahoma,” for example), though they have done plenty of smaller-scale musicals such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Fantasticks.”
After their first few seasons, Driftwood instituted a rule not to repeat a play within 10 years. Through the decades, they’ve mixed “oldies but goodies” such as “The Odd Couple” with everything from “Nunsense” to “An Evening With Sam Benn” — a one-man show written by state historian John Hughes and performed by Ernie Ingram in 1988.
But the seats aren’t filling up like they once did.
“We used to pack the place regularly, and we used to do Thursday night performances,” said Morean, but sales have fallen way off in the past several years. “In 2013 we did ‘The Glass Menagerie’ for 38 people,” he said. “It was just dead in there. … Now, sometimes 38 people is a pretty good night.”
Scoones echoes his concerns.
“With our ticket sales (alone), we can’t keep our doors open,” she said. “That’s why we do fundraisers. They help us maintain the building, pay the high heat bills, build our beautiful sets — just keep us going.”
“What’s the right combination?” asked Morean. “People like the musicals, but they cost a lot more to put on because of the royalties. We’ll continue to tweak it and find out what people want. Do people like comedy? Things that are known, like a classic drama? We never know.”
But whatever the show, all involved remain intensely dedicated to the belief that it must go on.
“These people that started Driftwood up had a dream and a passion,” said Scoones. “We want to continue that. We want to support them.”
For information about the upcoming season, visit AberdeenDriftwood.com.