After nearly two years of canceled shows and virtual productions, Spokane Civic Theatre has returned to the stage with a bang – and a crash, and maybe a few pieces of broken china. But worry not, it’s all by design.
“The Play That Goes Wrong,” Civic’s 2022 season opener, is “two hours of laughs,” executive director Jake Schaefer said. “I’ve never seen such a lively matinee.”
Written by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, “The Play That Goes Wrong” follows a group of actors from the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they attempt to mount a production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”
One technical catastrophe after the next tests the cast’s resolve until, finally – incredibly – they make it to the conclusion. For tickets, visit spokanecivictheatre.com or call the box office at (509) 325-2507.
“Not two minutes into the show, there’s already about four problems, and the audience is either half on the floor laughing or sitting there stunned, thinking, ‘How is this happening right now?’ ” Schaefer said.
Theater is already controlled chaos, but this show takes it to another level.
In a lot of ways, Schaefer explained, the plot mirrors the struggles everyone in the arts community has gone through in order to make it through the pandemic intact.
“This show is ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ ” Schaefer said. “And for Civic to be coming out of the pandemic with something like this that’s challenging for the performers and really innovative for the crew – I mean they’re working their tails off for two hours, and we don’t typically have shows that require this sort of tech – I don’t think we can do any better than that.”
By the end, the audience is fully rooting for the cast to succeed. Similarly, the continuing support Schaefer and his team have felt pouring in continues to drive home the solidity of Civic’s place in the community.
Fundraising during the pandemic has already allowed for much-needed updates to the building itself. But the additional research, development and remodeling made necessary by plans for the downtown stadium mean that Civic is nowhere near finished.
With this “new neighbor coming into the north bank,” now, more than ever, Civic needs to be soundproofed.
“That’s critical,” he said. “Between cheering and other ambient noise, the sound pollution from having 5,000 directly east of us – there’s no way. The building will not be operable.”
But alongside the soundproofing project, the Civic has gained an opportunity to “optimize” the building in other ways. Plans include adding a dedicated arts education space, opening a multipurpose rehearsal space, major modifications to the studio theater and widespread updates for ADA accessibility, among other changes.
These are all things that Schaefer and the rest of the Civic team have been discussing for years, but the incoming stadium means that plans on all fronts are being fast tracked.
“We were able to get our team assembled pretty quickly,” he said, mentioning engineer Mike James in particular.
“He’s an engineer’s engineer – I’ll never forget, several years ago, he said, ‘Two-and-a-half million dollars, and no one would even see it.’ That’s just how necessary work on the building is,” Schaefer said. “Between temperature control, sustainability, safety, efficiency, etc.”
They are not interested in altering the building’s exterior. “We don’t want to rewrite Civic’s footprint – I don’t think anyone has that right,” he said. “No, we want this new design to be compatible with the building as is so that collectively the whole property gets better.”
The aim of this modernization plan, collectively titled “1CIVIC,” is to unite as many of the organization’s functions under one roof as possible. “It’s one Civic, one building on one piece of property for one community,” Schaefer said. For more information, visit onecivic.com.
As the organization approaches its 75th anniversary, “The Play That Goes Wrong” – the cast, crew and production as a whole – represents a celebration of Civic’s history and longevity.
Director Jean Hardie developed Civic’s performing arts camps in the 1980s. Kathy Doyle-Lipe “has been onstage here for the better part of 30 years,” Schaefer said, while other cast members run the gamut from first-timers to repeat performers who graduated from local high schools and participated in Civic’s Academy program.
“It’s a microcosm,” Schaefer said. “It’s a perfect reflection of what Civic’s community is. “It’s not just about the wonderful awards and the sold-out performances and the hundreds of kids who come through there every year, whether it’s their first or fourth class exploring what it means to be a storyteller in any capacity.
“It’s also about what the whole organization stands for, which is literally everybody.”
Article by Stephanie Hammett