Pier One opens season this weekend

  • Peter Sheppard, left, and Matt Lees, right practice a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Sheppard directs the play, opening at 7 p.m. Friday, May 25, for the start of Pier One Theatre’s 2018 season. (Photo by Richard Rose)
  • Photo by Richard Rose Peter Sheppard, left, and Matt Lees, right practice a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Sheppard directs the play, opening at 7 p.m. Friday, May 25, for the start of Pier One Theatre’s 2018 season.
  • Peter Sheppard, left, and Matt Lees, right practice a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Sheppard directs the play, opening at 7 p.m. Friday, May 25, for the start of Pier One Theatre’s 2018 season. (Photo by Richard Rose)
  • Matt Lees, left, and Peter Sheppard, right practice a scene from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Sheppard directs the play, opening at 7 p.m. Friday, May 25, for the start of Pier One Theatre’s 2018 season. (Photo by Richard Rose)

Now in its second season after former Pier One artistic director Lance Petersen passed the torch to current artistic director Jennifer Norton, the little red theater on the Homer Spit has begun to feel its stride with a new generation of actors, directors and techies.

Petersen and wife Barbara Petersen for decades had run Pier One, now in its 45th season. In 2016, Norton came on as artistic director, shadowing Lance Petersen, and in 2017 ran the season on her own.

Pier One has a new phone number, a downtown Pioneer Avenue office above the Homer Bookstore, new staff and new board members.

“We’re starting to make sense of it all,” Norton said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “There’s just a lot going on keeping up with the programming, and attempting to keep ourselves organized is a challenge, but we’re making it happen.”

The 2018 season started last week with a kick-off party, “Pier One Doth Return,” but starts in earnest with Samuel Beckett’s classic existentialist play, “Waiting for Godot.” Hint: it’s not about the actress who plays Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, but Mr. Godot, a mysterious man who two tramps hope will change their lives. Directed by and starring Pier One veteran Peter Sheppard, “Waiting for Godot” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday and plays through next weekend.

Like Sheppard, Norton comes from a generation of young adults in their 20s and 30s who started in Pier One Youth Theater camps. Norton’s sister, Carolyn Norton, Pier One’s publicity director and website manager, are the daughters of Peter Norton, a longtime star of the intimate Pier One stage, and Laura Norton, production manager since 1986. Artistic culture thrives when it brings in new talent and energy through established education programs.

That would be Pier One’s summer youth theater programs. This year, Pier One holds five camps (see box, page 1) including two new programs, Theater Tech Camp and Stories on Stage. The camps for children ages 5 to 18 offer everything from basic theater and stage skills to a chance to produce a full-blown play, the Theater Production Camp.

That camp puts on T. James Belich’s “The Wind in the Willows” in August. Youth start with Theater Play, for ages 5-7, and work their way through Skills Camp and Production Camp for ages 11 to 18.

Run by Carolyn Norton, Stories on the Stage is for ages 8 to 10. Norton uses familiar stories to break down parts for the stage.

Information and applications for youth theater is on Pier One’s website at www.pieronetheatre.org. Scholarships also are available thanks to donations from Pier One supporters.

“We attempt to make sure money is no object for people,” Jennifer Norton said.

Theater Tech Camp teaches backstage skills previously covered in Skills Camp, but this year the techies get a camp of their own. Kathleen Gustafson runs Tech Camp. Students learn all the parts that go into making a production successful, like set building and running lights.

Norton said she started the season with “Waiting for Godot” because, “To be honest, it was the most gung ho and ready to go,” she said.

This will be director Peter Sheppard’s sixth play, Norton said.

“He definitely tackles some difficult material,” she said. “Heavy but also humorous is his M.O.”

With its small theater and close-in stage, Pier One excels at plays with small casts and intense dramas, but also wacky comedies. Sometime it does both, and three plays this season show that the best humor comes from pain. Linda Ellsworth directs Tom Ziegler’s “Home Games,” “a romantic comedy for baseball lovers,” the theater program describes it, that also covers issues like elder and family caregiving.

Homer playwright Sally Oberstein, known for her big, goofy musicals, gets a bit more serious with her family comedy “Woogie Woogie,” about an aging woman, Rose, her two daughters and a granddaughter. Oberstein also directs.

“I’m very excited to have this play. It’s a different thing for Sally. She’s really prepped it. It’s quite an accomplishment for a local playwright,” Norton said.

Oberstein workshopped her play at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez. The conference features national playwrights and actors who throw some big boulders into Alaska’s small-pond theater scene. Back this year is a three-day reading of Last Frontier workshopped plays.

Also in the serious-but-funny genre is “Calendar Girls,” written by Tim Firth and adapted from the movie about a group of British women who decide to raise money for a cancer ward by posing tastefully nude for a photo calendar. Pier One actor Margaret Quarton makes her directorial debut for the play.

Totally funny and silly is the season’s big summer production, “Spamalot!”, the Monty Python musical based on the British comedy group’s movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It tortures the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and features showgirls, cows, killer rabbits and French people.

As with last summer’s “Chicago,” “Spamalot!” shoehorns in a big Broadway musical onto the stage with a 15-piece orchestra and a cast of 21.

“It’s going to be a complex and comedic adventure,” Norton said.

Directed by Norton with musical and codirector Mark Robinson, the duo last worked on “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“The impetus for this one was ‘it’s just fun,’” Norton said. “…Mark and I felt like we personally were ready for a change of pace that didn’t end in suicide and crucifixion.”

Pier One also brings back two musical acts, Outrageous Jazz, with Karen Strid-Chadwick, Dale Curtis, Cameron Cartland, Ray Booker and Jim Davis. Entertainer Johnny B returns with his “Rhythm of the North,” a multimedia production with the photography of Daniel Zatz.

The show celebrating the beauty and wonder of Alaska plays on alternating Tuesdays through Sept. 18 — shows timed to coincide with cruise ship visits.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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