The First 30 Years
Years One to Twenty
"Have you dreamed of being an actor? director? want to work backstage? Belong to a community theatre company? You can have it all! Call Judie Crawford at 386-5548"
—Classified ad in Hood River News, September, 1977.
The phone started ringing, and that's how CAST was born. Within a month, half a dozen people had joined Judie (now Hanel) in establishing the group's by-laws and constitution. Each of them also kicked in twenty dollars to jump-start the kitty and the fledgling theatre group was in business.
CAST staged its first play, Vanities, in the fall of 1978. Frank Levin directed the comedy, although he, along with the actors, handled numerous other jobs as well. Back then, CAST didn't have a set designer, a costumer, or anyone to do makeup or hair. Everyone did everything to put on the show.
A lot has changed since then. For starters, CAST has experienced steady growth, both in membership and in the number of productions it has staged. Since Vanities, the group has produced more than 60 plays, including Mousetrap, Dracula, Play It Again, Sam, and Two Rooms, by such notable playwrights as Neil Simon, Agatha Christie, Woody Allen, and Lee Blessing.
CAST has also sponsored dance performances, choral groups, workshops for actors and directors, and local appearances by Portland area theatre companies. Just as important, CAST has been instrumental in bringing children's theatre to Hood River, including the magic of the renowned Missoula Children's Theatre. For the past three years, the Montana-based organization has conducted week-long workshops that have culminated in scores of Gorge area children participating in such whimsical productions as Wizard of Oz, The Pied Piper, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The emphasis CAST has placed on children has not been restricted t the stage. Fifteen Years ago CAST started granting scholarships to high school seniors who planned to continue their education in theatre. To date, CAST has awarded over five thousand dollars in scholarship money. The funds have come from revenue generated by CAST performances.
For more than a decade CAST has taken theatre off the stage and into the community through a number of efforts. The CAST performance of Safe Sex, a play by Tony award-winning playwright Harvey Fierstein, traveled to areas schools. Reader's Theatre, in which CAST members read plays, has been performed for Mid-Columbia civic organizations, churches and area high schools. CAST has also taken its play performances to Down Manor and has done Christmas reading and caroling at the Hood River Care Center. CAST is community.
In July, 1993, CAST found a permanent home, thanks to the great generosity of the late Butch Ogawa. Members of CAST and community volunteers surmounted the considerable challenge of cleaning up what had been the service department of an automobile dealership. By dint of sweat and perseverance, and not a little black paint, The Performing Arts Center (PAC) slowly began to take shape. The stage was built, ditto the seating platforms and the sound and lighting booth. To pay for improvements, grants were sought and obtained. With generous backing from the community, the PAC soon stood dressed with theatre curtains and graced by a sophisticated sound and lighting system. The PAC officially opened with its first show, The Night of January 16th, in July 1993.
The new owners of the building in which the theatre is housed are Bruce and Judy Thesenga. They've pledged their wholehearted support for the continued presence of CAST in its current Location.
recently hired its first theatre manager and is now putting together
its first, regularly scheduled full season. With the ongoing support of
the community CAST will continue as a vibrant and important contributor
to Columbia Gorge cultural life.
by Mark Nykanen, Oct. 1997
CAST History – Years 20 to 30
What a joy it was to have our own space after almost twenty years of performing in venues as varied as the county fairgrounds, the middle school, and a local brewpub. Suddenly, our members were able to reclaim their barns, garages, basements, and closets used to store all the scenery, props and lights. Best of all, everything could remain in place at the end of a show.
Okay, it wasn’t everything a theater should be. We didn’t have restrooms, so depended on the generosity of Butch Ogawa, who allowed us to use the ones in his restaurant. The décor was old automotive repair shop. The very limited backstage space lacked basic amenities for the cast. The dressing room had no makeup lights, mirrors or chairs. And in the auditorium, the straight-backed chairs, although padded, were not the most comfortable things to return to for a second act. At first, heavy, black, velvet drapes and lots of black paint softened the rough nature of the space. Then, between 1997 and 2003, bathrooms were added, the lobby floor was tiled, and the risers were carpeted. Things were looking pretty good.
About that same time, a Performance Committee was established with the responsibility to read and evaluate a sufficient number of plays from which a full season could be scheduled and directors found. A dedicated effort by the committee members over a period of about 18 months resulted in the ability to schedule and announce shows and line up directors and other volunteers approximately a full year in advance. The current pattern of a fall, holiday, winter, spring and summer production schedule evolved.
The initial effort to fund an Executive Director only lasted ten months until available funds ran out in the summer of 1998. A two-year effort won us a three-year grant from the Murdock Foundation in 2001 that allowed us to hire Rishell Graves as Executive Director. A subsequent grant from Oregon Communities Foundation provided for her continued involvement until 2005. It was all a challenge, but fun, and life with CAST was good.
When Butch Ogawa passed away, Bruce and Judy Thesenga purchased the building from his estate in order to support the viability of CAST by honoring Butch’s generous lease terms. When they sold the building and moved to Montana, we learned the new owners would require a lease at current commercial rates. The loss of our home of ten years came in December of 2003. The last show in that venue was Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Once again we were “on the road” and only two productions a year were undertaken.
Within a 4-month period after realizing that we would have to move, Columbia Art Gallery lost their lease on the space beneath City Hall and the American Legion decided to sell their building. A collaborative effort was initiated, a new organization was formed, a capital campaign started, the building purchased and renovated, and a new theater – and gallery - was built. The first production in the new venue was Side, by Side, By Sondheim in July/August 2006.
As CAST’s 30th anniversary approaches, the season again includes five productions and we’re seeing many new faces both on and off the stage. No, it still isn’t the perfect venue, but it is much better than we had. Once again we’re having fun as we provide the mid-Columbia area with diversity and quality in live theatrical productions. Please join us on our journey to the future …
By Jim Bull, July 2008