The curtain rises on local theater

For the past two years, the stage at the Bishop Center for the Performing Arts at Grays Harbor College (GHC) has been dark. The luxurious, 440 velvet seats of the auditorium remained vacant as the world patiently awaited the return of live entertainment. But as it does for many things, spring has spelled rebirth for the dormant theater.

This month marked the return of live performances at the Bishop Center as players took to the stage for “Something Rotten!”— a Tony-nominated Broadway hit from 2015 that follows the brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom as they struggle to find success in the shadow of their contemporary William Shakespeare. The musical closed on Sunday, March 13, and is the first of many in-person performances planned for the coming months.

Patrons and GHC administrative staff alike are thrilled to fill the theater that lies under the slanted, triangular roofs of the center.

Outside of pandemic times, the center hosts 30-40 events a year, according to Vice President of Student Services Cal Erwin-Svodoba. This includes eight to nine outside performances, such as national touring and regional touring theater groups. Through these groups, the center is able to offer Broadway-quality performances here in Grays Harbor.

“It’s just been a wonderful addition,” said Margo Hood, Assistant to the Vice President for Student Services. “Not a lot of people around here have the opportunity to see live or diverse performances, shows like that are typically only available along the I-5 corridor.”

Day-to-day operations of the Bishop Center are run by the Office of the Vice President for Student Services at GHC.

The center was first built in 1974 as a gift to the college from the Bishop and Fleet families. While these famous timber families have long since left the Harbor, they continue to support the center through their foundation. A 2003 remodel provided crucial updates to the backstage area, including the addition of a green room and set designing workshop.

The center is a crucial resource for local talent, with both GHC students and nearby community members getting a stab at the spotlight.

The center’s closure has placed a particular strain on the pipeline of young community actors into local theater. In addition to three to four school group shows a year, the center hosts a summer musical geared specifically for school-aged children looking to try their hand at the performing arts.

“There’s so many community theaters in the area, so what we do with our summer musical is get the young involved,” said Erwin-Svodoba. “All of this is to get our community engaged with the arts. We know that for some, theater is their ticket to their future.”

About 70-80 people are involved in each production at the center, from performers to set designers. Erwin-Svodoba and Hood have both watched children grow up on the Bishop Center stage, with some continuing on to professional careers in the dramatic arts.

Stardom may not be for everyone, but the center is the beating heart of the performing arts in the Harbor. In addition to theater, it also plays host to live musical performances throughout the year. On May 15, after nearly 30 months since the last in-person concert, the Grays Harbor Civic Choir and Concert Band will reunite with audiences at the center for a performance. This June will also be a busy time for the center, which will play host to the Grays Harbor Symphony, the GHC Music Department Honors Recital, the GHC Jazz Concert, and an Opera workshop.

“The idea is to expand people’s minds on what art is,” said Hood. “We want to get people in the door to take the time to sit, listen, and expose themselves to something new.”

Accessibility to the public is at the core of the center’s operations, which is why tickets are kept at affordable prices. Audiences will also be able to enjoy abnormally comfortable theater seating. According to Hood, when the center was being constructed Mrs. Bishop found the two biggest loggers in town and made the chairs to their size so that she knew everyone would be comfortable. While updates to the seating would allow for larger audiences and more ticket sales, it was the vision of Mrs. Bishop that audience members have an enjoyable experience — ample legroom included.

After a rotating stage for Les Mis, a soaring lady for Mary Poppins, and a flying chandelier for Phantom of the Opera, audiences will have to wait and see what surprises are in store for them at this second of act of the Bishop Center.

Editor’s note: This story was scheduled to run in Washington Coast Magazine, Spring 2022 Edition. However, it did not run because of space and time constraints.