Bob and Shirley Dunlop started the Masquers Theater in 1979. The Dunlops moved to Soap Lake from California bringing with them their experience and expertise in community theater. They gathered together a small group of aspiring performing artists and rehearsed their first plays in one of the downtown buildings. These early productions included Come Blow Your Horn, The Warrior's Husband, Gaslight, and Blythe Spirit.
Audiences were never large, but actors continued to respond to auditions for new plays. Rehearsals led to opening nights as the theatre's repertoire grew. In 1983, the Dunlops moved back to California, leaving behind a handful of diehards committed to keeping the theater alive.
Beverly Hasper became the Artistic Director in 1983. She had been with the Dunlops from the beginning. Although she had taken playwriting and acting classes at the University of Washington, most of her experience came while working under their tutelage. Up until 1987, the theater offered plays whenever the group got together and decided to do one. Beverly admits, "We didn't have a lot of experience, but we learned as we went."Â Beverly points out that the Masquers Theater is a product of change and the influence and contributions of people who have come along over the years and made a difference.
John Glassco, past president of the Masquers was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. John encouraged a series of productions written by Canadian playwrights. These plays, referred to as the prairie intellectual series, were highly successful for the Masquers and included The Mail Order Bride, Border Town CafÃ©, and Artichoke. Looking back on this period, Beverly commented, "These plays really spoke to local audiences. They were about rural people and the kinds of issues people here can relate to."
In 1996, Don Wilkins came to Soap Lake. Don was from England where he had received theater training at the Royal Academy of the Performing Arts. Like those before him, Don helped the actors achieve great performances. He directed Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, one of the biggest hits in the history of Masquers. The author of this play, Alan Ball, received an Academy Award for his screenplay, American Beauty.
The role of the artistic director is to establish the creative direction of the group. Taking into consideration plays or performances that will create the greatest impression on the audience is a vital part of that role. It can also be the most difficult. As Beverly quickly points out, "We have a rural culture here. There are people with many different tastes. In theater, we are looking for ways to reach out to people through a set of values that will allow them to reach back in anticipation of something new or unknown. We want our plays to give them a glimpse of something meaningful, provide them with an experience that is outside of the ordinary in their lives. Finding plays that will do this is our biggest challenge. The theater is a place people can come together and feel life without actually living it. We want to bring our audiences a sense of delight that will keep them coming back".
One of the biggest projects the theater has undertaken began seven years ago. With the help of Hank Worden and the Columbia Basin Foundation, the group started a building fund. Marina Romary donated a lot on Main Street in Soap Lake, and the group began construction of a new state-of-the-art theater in 2001. Local citizens donated virtually all of the $200,000 raised for the first stage of building construction. The largest donation of $100,000.00 came from Jeanette Jolly.
The Masquers Theater is one of the oldest rural community theaters in the state of Washington. Theater volunteers have consistently provided Basin residents with fine comedy and dramatic performances. The efforts of this group are a tribute to the spirit of goodwill that enables any volunteer organization to prevail through years of change and an audience they will never stop trying to please.
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