Fairhaven launches Summer Repertory Theatre

Cast members of Wit rehearse a scene at The Firehouse Arts and Events Center onJune, 28. // Photo by Kyra Planetz

By Kyra Planetz

Take a stroll down the streets of Fairhaven, walk into almost any shop and the essence of creativity embedded into the community is immediately palpable. With its quirky charm and plethora of locally-crafted paintings and sculptures, some may consider the village a hub for the arts.   

Art is rooted in Fairhaven’s community and the Historic Fairhaven Association recently applied to make the village a Certified Creative District of Washington. The Washington State Arts Commission first named Edmonds a Creative District in 2018 and Fairhaven hopes to be second. With the certification, the village would receive grants to help economic development by increasing tourism and promoting its “creative identity,” according to the Washington State Arts Commission’s website. 

Several organizations, including the Historic Fairhaven Association and Bellingham TheatreWorks, came together to create the Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre. The event begins in July and celebrates the village’s artistic community in the same way becoming a Creative District would do.  

The Firehouse Arts and Events Center will be presenting three plays over the span of four weeks. All of them are directed, produced and will star local creatives. When approached by Bellingham TheatreWorks with the idea of creating the Repertory Theatre, Scott Ward, the executive director of the Historic Fairhaven Association, thought it aligned with the process of becoming a Creative District—showcasing the importance art has in influencing the community. 

“It felt to me this is exactly the right thing to be coming to Fairhaven because it supports that whole idea, it expands our creative offerings in a way,” Ward said. “It just supports what we are and who we want to be.”

The Repertory Theatre was an annual summer tradition at the Mount Baker Theatre for several years until it disbanded in 2013. Steve Lyons, the producing director at Bellingham TheatreWorks, along with his colleagues and support from the community, wanted to bring back the summer series to the artistic center that is Fairhaven. 

“The Summer Rep. series at the Mount Baker Theatre was a staple of the summer arts in Bellingham and when it folded it just left a hole in the arts community,” Lyons said.  

This summer’s Repertory Theatre lineup “grew out of community input,” Lyons said. Bellingham TheatreWorks usually choose to produce plays that are somewhat unknown, but after reaching out to the community for suggestions, three Pulitzer Prize-winning and nominated plays were chosen: “The Clean House” by Sarah Ruhl, “Wit” by Margaret Edson and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. 

Unintentionally, Lyons said, each play has a central theme of death and dying and all of them feature a strong female lead. “The Clean House” is about coping with change and loss during a chaotic time in one’s life while “Wit” focuses on a 50-year-old woman battling ovarian cancer and coming to terms with death. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” features a family in disarray after discovering their father is dying. 

Directors and cast members of each production only have eight days to rehearse and prepare for opening night. Cast and crew, many of which are Western students, faculty and alumni, put their lives on hold to work on each play. Western alumna Kayla Adams no longer lives in Bellingham but returned for the summer to directWit

“I don’t know if this really compressed eight-day process would actually work as well if there wasn’t such an amazing theater community in Bellingham specifically,” Adams said. “It’s awesome for established communities as a way to come together and work really hard, get in the dirt and get to know each other to create some cool art really fast.”

Not only does the Repertory Theatre bring artists together in Bellingham, but it also expands the sense of creativity found in Fairhaven. The performances will be held at The Firehouse, a venue that helps community members and tourists gain a better “understanding of the village and what the village can be and do,” Ward said. 

If Fairhaven does become an official Creative District, Ward said he is excited about the Repertory Theatre’s potential for the future. He also hopes grant funds will tell a more inclusive history of Fairhaven through art, such as new sculptures depicting women and minorities, instead of just Caucasian men. 

The Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre will be held six nights a week from Tuesday, July 2 to Sunday, July 28 at The Firehouse Arts and Events Center. For a complete calendar and to purchase tickets visit bellinghamtheatreworks.org. 

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