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Final curtain

Community institution seeks affordable rehearsal space

All the world’s a stage, Mr. Shakespeare wrote, and Corbett Children’s Theater is looking for an affordable corner of the world it can call its home stage. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Corbett Children's Theater cast members rehearse for 'Seussical' in the Troutdale Marketplace space they currently occupy. The Theater's lease is up at the end of the year, however, and no replacement is in sight.

At the end of this year, Corbett Children’s Theater must vacate its temporary rehearsal space at 27000 S.E. Stark St., in the Troutdale Marketplace, to make way for a new tenant.

Angel Williams, CCT artistic director, and board member Kurt Shinn say CCT hopes to find an affordable rehearsal space in East Multnomah County. The theater recently sent out a letter to its supporters asking for help.

“We don’t need a fancy space,” the letter reads. “We just need an inexpensive space. We don’t even need a stage, just 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of empty space somewhere in East Multnomah County. As long as it has bathrooms, heat, power and parking, we can function.”

A donation page established at: givlet.org/donate/2ZM3/ can be accessed from CCT’s website homepage at corbettchildrenstheater.org.OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - 'Seussical'cast members from the Corbett Children's Theater rehearse earlier this fall in their Troutdale Marketplace storefront space.

A story in stages

Begun in 1998, the children’s theater has become a beloved part of student life in Corbett as well as in other communities. The nonprofit theater organization has drawn young thespians from Gresham, Troutdale, Sandy, Beaverton — and from across the Columbia River. Students from Vancouver and Skamania, Wash., have participated in CCT productions, Williams and Shinn noted. Actors from age 3 to 18 have performed in CCT plays, and the organization boasts about 100 active adult and student members.

The theater’s reputation as a place where young people can learn to act while working with others and becoming their friends has attracted students from near and far for some time.

“Theater is a tool we use, but it’s really about growing the kids,” Williams says. “We’re giving them an opportunity to learn empathy, to view the world through someone else’s lives.”

That sentiment is echoed by CCT alumna Lisa Fisher, a first-year student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. Fisher, 19, says her five years with the theater shaped her life fundamentally.

“I wouldn’t have gone into theater if it wasn’t for CCT,” she observes, noting she aspires to become a professional actor. “I learned a lot about myself by becoming other characters.”

There are hundreds of theater alumni who would likely say the same thing. Indeed, former CCT participants have attended the Boston Conservatory, Harvard and Vassar, working as stage managers, actors, filmmakers and more. But their beloved company has struggled financially in recent months, and there’s a chance it may not exist past next spring.

Williams says the rent in the temporary space was not at all excessive, and CCT’s total monthly expenses average about $1,000. However, the nonprofit company, which subsists on donations and fees, is nonetheless struggling to keep pace with its bills.

It can cost up to $2,000 just to pay the royalties on a famous play the theater performs, Williams says, noting that figure doesn’t include the cost of rent, posters, costumes, sets and other items. Although CCT students’ parents pay a fee for their children to be in productions, no one is ever turned away for an inability to pay the entire fee.

“We keep everything low cost for the kids,” she says. “We keep ticket prices low so all their family members and friends can come see them.”

For some time now, the theater has sought a low-cost or no-cost space in which its members can rehearse. Williams says the theater has talked to a couple of area churches about possibly using space in their facilities, as well as one other group and a business representative, but no solid deals have been struck yet. To avert shutting down altogether, CCT has launched a fundraising campaign to rent a new space.

Art a la Carte will host a fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, at CCT’s rehearsal space, 27000 S.E. Stark St., to benefit the Corbett Children’s Theater search. The organization charges patrons a fee to use its art supplies to create whatever they wish. Discounts are available to low-income patrons. Art a la Carte will donate 30 percent of its sales that day to CCT. For more information, visit artalacartenw.com/#!troutdale/w7zdu.

Stages left

People familiar with Corbett Children’s Theater may be somewhat confused as to why it needs a space. After all, the nonprofit has rehearsed in the Corbett School District’s Multi-Purpose Building (MPB) even though the theater wasn’t an official academic program.

“Starting in June of 1998 in Susan Scott’s backyard, CCT worked with the local school district to provide a fun and educational experience for the students of eastern Multnomah County in the performing arts,” the company’s history reads at its website, corbettchildrenstheater.com. “Corbett Children’s Theater started with a performance of ‘Peter Pan’ practiced in Susan Scott’s backyard during the summer and performed in the Corbett School District’s multi-purpose room that fall.”

Eventually the theater moved into the district’s Springdale School building at 32500 E. Historic Columbia River Highway. However, after about a decade in the building, it was discovered that the Springdale space was zoned so it could only be used as a school but not as a community-use facility.

CCT then returned to the Corbett MPB, but such factors as the district’s growth in enrollment meant the theater was sharing the space with other Corbett programs. Since spring of 2013, the theater has done smaller scale shows in district facilities, but has not been able to use Corbett facilities to the extent it did in the past, including the MPB.

“We have the school-sponsored Corbett Performing Arts Club using the space throughout the year,” notes Randy Trani, Corbett superintendent. “CCT is still welcome to use our facilities provided they are available, which is always a juggling act, given the school use of the stage area for CPAC, band and choir. It really points to a lack of performing arts space in Corbett specifically, and East County in general.”

“We were so blessed,” Williams says of CCT’s years in the Springdale School as well as the Corbett MPB. “For a long time we had the ability to not pay rent for storage and space. We never recognized fully that we were being underwritten by the district.”

The theater still has strong ties to the Corbett district, Williams adds, noting its next production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” will take place at the district’s Springdale CAPS School.

From 2013-14, CCT rented a space in Troutdale, but eventually got priced out, so the organization found its current home in the Troutdale Marketplace earlier this year. Moving its operations out of Corbett has had its downside as well as its upside, Williams says. On the one hand, some folks thought CCT was not just literally distancing itself from the Corbett School District, but figuratively as well. However, she says, the upside is parents living in and around Troutdale who had not enrolled their children in the theater’s programs before now got interested in the company.

If CCT doesn’t find a home by January, Williams and Shinn say the organization will make do, possibly doing smaller productions for a while until it can find a permanent home. One thing that makes them both optimistic is the intense support the theater’s graduates have offered to rally folks to donate to the cause. Take Fisher, who credits CCT with teaching her how to assert herself.

“I learned to work well with other people as well as be a leader,” she says, noting she took part in 14 Corbett theater productions. “As I got further along in the program, I realized how many leadership skills I had.”

Even students who don’t want to become professional actors cherish their time in the Corbett theater, says McKenna Peterson, a Gresham resident. Peterson spent eight years with CCT, the first two while attending Corbett High, and the following years as a volunteer who has directed plays. She now works for a bookseller and is starting a wedding planning business. She credits CCT for helping her grow into the person she is today.

“We are a unique organization that brings kids together,” she says, adding the Corbett theater provides a needed antidote to the digital world in which so many teenagers live.

“We focus on being with people as opposed to being with your computer or on your phone,” she says. “We meet in a rehearsal space to hang out with each other — not just for acting.”

Most importantly, she says, CCT creates a second family for its members.

“It’s not all about individuals. It’s not all about acting,” she says. “It’s about that team effort.”

CCT’s next play

Corbett Children’s Theater will present “It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play,” at 7 p.m. Friday Dec. 11 and 18; 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 and 19; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 and 20.

Performances take place at Springdale CAPS School, 25000 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, Corbett.

Tickets are $12, $9 for students and seniors.

For more information, visit corbettchildrenstheater.org.


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