Ken and Pruella Centers' son Zachary comes back to the town stage
by: Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Grove Royce (Robert Gray) gets an early morning wake up call during Theatre in the Grove’s “Dearly Departed.”

Zachary Centers has spent his entire life on and behind the historic stage that Theatre in the Grove calls home.

The son of longtime company members Ken and Pruella Centers, Zachary grew up acting in shows and helping with technical work, including lighting and set design. The theater became his home away from home, the place where he and his family bonded over a shared love of theater.

Centers recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with a degree in theater focused on set design, and returned to Forest Grove. The move also marks his return to Theatre in the Grove, and now the young Centers has taken up a completely different mantle: After 24 years as a kid participating in productions, he's a full-fledged player in the organization.

Directorial debut is this Friday

Centers marks his directorial debut this Friday with 'Dearly Departed,' David Bottrell and Jessie Jones' acclaimed play about a dysfunctional southern family that reunites after the passing of its patriarch.

With its themes of death and ruptured family relationships, the comedy offers a thematic challenge in balancing darkness and light, which is precisely why Centers thinks audiences are going to love it.

'It's one of those great shows that's really good at being funny and sad at the same time,' says Centers. 'There's a lot of hilarity that ensues, but there's a subtle sadness throughout the show.

'People like to have a good time, but they also want to be moved.'

In addition to the challenges of being a first-time director, Centers also designed the play's set and lighting, mainly because of his passion for the technical aspects of the stage.

But the director said one potential barrier that proved to be easier than he expected was getting a cast of people who have known him since he was in diapers to adhere to his vision for the play.

'Everybody is dedicated to it. They're calm, and they want to work on doing a good production, so it's really easy for me as a director,' says Centers. 'I can kind of sit back and let them do what they want and explore while I kind of guide them - as opposed to, with less experienced actors, you have to move them around a lot.

'It's the type of environment you want to have. You want to help the actors find what they need.'

Centers' involvement in 'Dearly Departed' isn't the only big step the prodigal thespian has made: He is also now sitting on the TITG's board of directors, a three-year commitment in which he works alongside his parents and mainstays such as Jeanna Van Dyke, who he has also known his entire life.

'It's really funny going from being a kid in high school to coming back and interacting with the adults,' notes Centers. 'Being an adult with adults is a different experience. I've known a lot of these people since I was tiny.

'It's a totally different experience being on the board and helping make decisions. It's a total trip.'

Staying committed

Centers calls his return to Forest Grove a break from his larger pursuits, and says he plans to apply to graduate school in the near future while branching out to Portland and other areas to work with professional theater companies.

But he says he will remain committed to his work with Theater in the Grove, citing community theater companies as essential to small communities' cultural lifeblood.

'I feel bad when people work in community theater, then move on to professional theater and kind of dismiss community theater,' he says. 'Community theater is one of the most important types of theater we have in America.

'It's something great to give people in the community who maybe haven't had a chance to see some of these plays a chance to be moved.'

Eternally grounded

That love of the theater that gave him his start - and a second childhood home - will keep Centers eternally grounded in the community where he grew up.

No matter what the future brings, he's sure about that.

'I will probably, for my whole life, come back here,' says Centers. 'I want to do professional theater, but I will want to come back and give back to Theatre in the Grove.

'I grew up here, and nobody wants to give up where they grew up.'

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