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All of nature's a stage at the Kitsap Forest Theater
There is no thick velvet curtain for the Kitsap Forest Theater to open at the start of “The Sound of Music.” No spotlight, no stage lights, no overhead rigging.
But when the famed musical begins its run in Bremerton later this month, it will offer something more magnificent than four walls can contain.
A quarter-mile down an old growth forest trail sits the outdoor theater, situated along the Seabeck Highway on one side, along Chico Creek on the other. The stage is deep-set and flanked by tall, brown-shingled panels that look like the trunks of mammoth trees; behind them is a leafy backdrop of the prettiest shades of green, a cathedral of branches just sparse enough to let in a little sunshine.
Sitting in that sunshine, not the lightless caverns of a black box or the dark hues of an auditorium, is director Craig Schieber, who leads his cast in one of the show’s notable numbers, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” It is a preternatural combination: the singers’ strong, lovely voices and their woody surroundings.
The Kitsap Forest Theater has been producing shows since 1923, nearly a decade after two Mountaineers originally bought the club’s rhododendron preserve in Kitsap, which has grown from 74 acres to 460 acres in the years that followed. Mountaineer players developed the many skits and pantomimes they performed for fun into a bona fide outdoor playhouse, which now produces a spring and summer production each year.
The Sound of Music” will be the players’ 87th show, and many of its 28 cast and crew members have been acting together for decades. Many are members of the same family, or have formed a familial bond. Craig McCoy, 54, performed his first show at the Kitsap Forest Theater in 1968. In 1998 he met future wife Katie.
“We were married five years later,” he said.
“Four years,” she corrected.
It is that familial atmosphere that touches every aspect of the Kitsap Forest Theater: Everyone pitches in behind the scenes, everyone has a chore. Actors iron their own costumes, help build sets and cook food. Many of them are visitors to Kitsap, coming from Lynwood, Olympia or Monroe. Most camp out over the weekends when they rehearse at the theater. During the week, they rehearse in Seattle.
“It’s been a family thing for the last 11 years,” said Rachel Jones, whose family became involved after her brother was cast in a show. “Once you come out here and you’re involved in one show, it’s hard not to come out and do it again. They involve the entire family, which is very unique.”
Jones, 22, is working backstage for “The Sound of Music.” She came to Kitsap for rehearsals from her home in Federal Way.
“It’s like going to camp every weekend,” she said.
At least once a year, the Mountaineer Players will tell you, it rains on a Kitsap Forest Theater performance.
“What’s funny is the audience loves it,” said Lauren Mikov, who plays Sister Berthe in “The Sound of Music” alongside her mother, Donna Mikov, who also plays a nun.
Some years, players must check one another for stray caterpillars before going on stage. The back channels of the Kitsap Forest Theater look like a merry woodland village: There are set pieces from plays gone by, sheds deemed as dressing rooms and mirrors lined up beneath the sky, where players do their makeup.
The amphitheater-style seating fits 700-800. Visitors often bring blankets to sit on, or they sit directly on the dirt steps. Only the occasional pine cone — not candy wrappers or soda cans — litters the rows.
The Kitsap Forest Theater production of “The Sound of Music” will ring familiar for all those who hold the Rogers & Hammerstein version beloved, and will include a more realistic, weighty reality that is often swept offstage. Two additional songs and a more serious captain mark these differences, explained Schieber, 54, who began directing for the Kitsap Forest Theater in 2001.
It is the story of Maria, a curious, sing-songy, religious fraulein sent out from an abbey on assignment to help raise seven children in the beautiful Salzburg countryside. It is there she meets the children’s father, Captain Von Trapp, who has lost all musicality in his life after his wife’s death.
Nole Barbuto and Beaven Walters, who play Captain Von Trapp and Maria, are new to the Kitsap Forest Theater but not to one another. They played opposite each other nearly two decades ago in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at Washington State University.
“I love strong characters, I love ones that have the struggle to some sort of atonement,” Barbuto said.
Walters, whose 6-year-old daughter Sophie will play the youngest Von Trapp girl, Gretl, said ingenue characters like Maria are often lacking in depth. Not so in “The Sound of Music,” she said.
“She’s this playful, unsophisticated girl who grows up and becomes a woman and a mother,” Walters said. “It’s really fun to go on that journey with her.” WU