It's not quite the soaring Austrian Alps, but a ferny rhododendron forest on the Kitsap Peninsula comes pretty close as a great place to sing. So when the Mountaineers Players open "The Sound of Music" at the 87-year-old Kitsap Forest Theater this weekend, you can expect plenty of natural atmosphere.
“It’s fabulous there,” said Craig Schieber, director for “The Sound of Music,” which will play Saturday and Sunday afternoons through Father’s Day. “It’s a labor of love, but a nice community.”
Schieber ought to know – he’s been acting and directing with the Mountaineers Players at the Kitsap Forest Theater for more than 10 years.
Hidden down a quarter-mile winding trail in a lush old-growth forest full of cedars, ferns and rhododendrons, the theater has been holding family theater productions since 1923: every spring (except during World War II) and, since 2007, every summer also. The theater is entirely outdoors, with an earth stage, fern “footlights” and ground seating sculpted out of the natural amphitheater shape. Set in a 460-acre rhododendron preserve with protected salmon streams, the setting allows for picnicking and hiking before and after each show.
“One popular trail goes down to the Big Tree,” said communications manager Lauren Mikov. “It takes about 14 people to link arms around the trunk. You can go backstage after the show, and the salmon creek is just behind the theater.”
Be sure to pack the bug spray along with the picnic. If you want to bring something to sit on other than a waterproof blanket, make it as low as you can to avoid blocking someone else’s view. It’s good to know that while dogs are allowed on the property, they’re not welcome at the show. And come in plenty of time: These shows are popular. Last time the theater produced “The Sound of Music” – the Rogers and Hammerstein musical based on the true tale of an exuberant musical nun and a large singing family in Nazi-led Austria – audiences averaged 700 per show.
“Usually, theater people aren’t outdoor people, but even though this is small, it’s a great intersection,” Schieber said. “The players camp out between shows, share dinner.”
The Mountaineers Players make up one of the oldest continually running community theaters in the country. While they are not professional, they draw talent from both Seattle and local towns such as Poulsbo. Schieber is a veteran drama teacher and director at Renton Civic.
Recent reviews have complimented the Players on high production values and good cast singing. For this production, which includes beloved songs such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss,” Schieber is using a cast with “a lot of talent.” He pointed out that the stage version is a little grittier than the film.
Not that it always is easy acting outdoors: As Schieber explained, the stage might have plenty of tree bark but it has no curtain, lighting or fly. Scenes “flow into each other” with minimal sets. When it rains, they keep on going.
But it’s worth it.
“I love it,” Schieber said. “On a beautiful day, instead of being inside a black box, I’m out in the sunshine.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, firstname.lastname@example.org