Three quarters of a century for any endeavor is reason enough to reflect. This is exactly what current co-presidents of The Little Theatre of Walla Walla Kate VanCleve and Robert G. Randall did in a recent newsletter.
LTWW was conceived when about 40 people banded together to bring “good theater done well” to Walla Walla.
Their first performances of “Yes, My Darling Daughter” were in July 1944, for personnel at the U.S. Army Air Base and McCaw General Hospital. In October they presented the play in penthouse style at The Marcus Whitman Hotel for the general public.
They cleaned out at least 15 years of accumulated dust and grime in an empty space to create the first theater at 23½ E. Main St.
They added a stage platform, lighting, sound, curtain and decor and borrowed bench seating from the City Park Board in the winter months.
Several seasons filled with productions followed until the theater had to forgo the Main Street site when the 1946-47 season ended. After a year without plays, the Union-Bulletin on Feb. 23, 1948, reported Little Theatre purchased the World War Veterans Memorial Building on Garden City Heights.
In the theater newsletter Kate and Robert give credit to an army of predecessors who gave time, talents and resources for decades.
They shared the following situation, when TVs proliferated, causing live theater to take a hit, including Little Theatre, which at one performance saw just three attendees.
Theater movers and shakers knew they had to make changes to continue here. They bused in residents from retirement homes. Even prison inmates — women on one day and men on the next — were drafted to watch performances.
“The theatre was in dire need of funds and it was in debt to businesses all over town.”
Along came the NTP, a small group of volunteers who stepped up to help. The No-Talent Players got a great idea from a helicopter pilot passing through town.
NTP opened Walla Walla’s first haunted house, first reconnoitering to see how one was operated in Spokane, then returning set for fun. They borrowed a house Whitman College had ready for demolition on the site where Reid Campus Center is on Boyer Avenue.
Working at all hours, they painted, readied costumes and organized. “If they weren’t working, they were at home cooking for those working. When the haunted house finally opened — in the nick of time — people were standing in lines that stretched around the block.”
From admission fees of 50 cents per adult and 25 cents per child, they raised $6,000. “Let’s do the math. Even if the audience were made up of only adults, that would be 12,000 guests! Rumor had it that people came from cities all over the region.”
Then NTP negotiated with the U-B to pay their outstanding balance if they could get a full-page ad to increase patronage. “The U-B agreed, and the theatre started to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Who knows — without the tenacity of the NTP would LTWW be celebrating its 75 year? “Every organization is only as strong as its members and their love and commitment to its cause,” Randall and Kate noted. They further expressed gratitude for those who didn’t give up and those who “keep our legacy of commitment strong.”
The theater’s first production of the 2019-2020 season is the rollicking comedy Christmas classic, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”
Performances are Nov. 22-23, 29-30, Dec. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7, and 8. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for adults.
Online sales at ltww.org begin on Nov. 18 after 7 p.m. The box office will be open Tuesday-Thursday from 4-6 p.m., from 4-7:30 p.m. on show nights and 1-2 p.m. on matinees each week of performances.
Kate and Robert serve on the Board of Directors with Barb McKinney, vice president, production; Kay Fenimore-Smith, vice president, business; Jan Torland, treasurer; Cheryl Sutlick, secretary; and Carol Anselmo, Al Chang, Brian Hatley, Dyani Turner, Sarah Thomson, Jay Krutulis, Jennifer Riggs and Stacie Trego.
Others who assist the effort are Managing Director Mikki Jones and Board of Trustees chairwoman Jan Torland and fellow members George Smith, Robert Randall, Eric Rohde, Judy Schlicher and Greg Jones.
For more information, contact Mikki at 509-876-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.