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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Western professor finds home in theatre

Director Kamarie Chapman sits in the “captain’s chair” on set before the seating starts for her show at the iDiOM Theater in downtown Bellingham on Thursday, April16.  The set piece is a chair from her office. // Photo by Christina Becker
Director Kamarie Chapman sits in the “captain’s chair” on set before the seating starts for her show at the iDiOM Theater in downtown Bellingham on Thursday, April16. The set piece is a chair from her office. // Photo by Christina Becker

Tucked away in High Street Hall, in the back of the athletic offices is a room that doesn’t quite fit into the building it is housed in. Posters for plays and theater-related gear parade the walls, and an old, floral couch sits against the wall.

Sitting on a silver exercise ball instead of an office chair, Kamarie Chapman bounces and laughs, joking the ball must be from space because silver means the future. Or, at least, that’s what she decided when working on her latest set design.

Chapman is a local playwright and instructor at Western who teaches theatre history, playwriting and intro to cinema among other theater-related topics. She is also an actress and a contributor to several art and theatre groups.  Her latest stage feat has been writing and directing a musical entitled “ded reckoning,” where the characters attempt to define home throughout the plot.

THE ROAD TO PLAYWRITING

Chapman has been involved in theatre since she was about 5 or 6 years old. She began her career playing a mouse in “Cinderella” and dancing in ballet. The popular musical when she was growing up was “Annie,” which she listened to on a record over and over.

“If you think kids listening to ‘Frozen’ are bad, [listen to] ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,’ and you’ll be real sick of that real quick,” Chapman joked.

Chapman grew up on Whidbey Island, but went to high school in Bellingham where she was active in theatre. She was so involved that she ended up lettering in it.

After high school, however, she took a different route that steered her away from theatre. She decided to join the United States Marine Corps for a four-year term. However, when she was on leave for a large period of time, she would go audition for shows wherever she was stationed.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Chapman went to Bellevue College, where she got her associate degree. She then attended Western for her undergraduate in theatre.

Her passion for playwriting didn’t come until later in her education. At Western, theatre students are required to take a playwriting class along with several other classes that make up a liberal arts education.

‘ded reckoning’ follows the tale of a crew lost in space. The three main characters - sisters - must decide whether to return home or continue their exploration of the vast universe, and their sisterly bonds. // Photo by Christina Becker
“ded reckoning” follows the tale of a crew lost in space. The three main characters – sisters – must decide whether to return home or continue their exploration of the vast universe, and their sisterly bonds. // Photo by Christina Becker

Chapman finished up her undergraduate and went to the University of New Mexico for her graduate degree, which was in gender and playwriting. After completing that, she dabbled in theatre in New York but didn’t find what she was looking for there.

“I hated it. You’re surrounded by 6 million people anytime of the day,” Chapman said.

With nothing holding her back, she decided to move back to Bellingham.

She decided to put her resume into Western’s application pool just to see if anything would come of it.

She was then quickly offered a position in teaching theatre history, playwriting and outreach education.

“Those are like my favorite things in the world,” Chapman said.

She took the position and settled back into Bellingham life.

Monica Hart, Chapman’s colleague and friend from Western’s theatre department, expressed what she believes makes Chapman stand out.

“I’ve never met anybody that cares more about their students and the work of not only theatre, but playwriting and film,” Hart said.

This was the general consensus when others in the department spoke of Chapman, including Rich Brown, another of her colleagues at Western. 

“I think she is open to things in terms of her work as a playwright,” Brown said. “She’s very interested in contemporary playwrights and how they are changing contemporary theatre, and she passes that information along to our students.”

Chapman seems to have lucked out in her profession.

“My job is to read plays and teach them, which is what I love,” she said.

TAKING THE LEAD

“I was often being cast as the eavesdropping aunt, or the bossy mom, and those were really the only roles being written for women with my body type,” Chapman said.

Instead of letting this stop her, Chapman decided to start writing her own plays and teamed up with iDiOM Theater, a local independent theater, in 2003. She was able to frequently act with iDiOM outside of her typecast roles and was able to work on her own pieces.

Since starting to write her own works, she’s penned over 50 10-minute plays, 20 one-act plays, seven finalized full-length plays, and one full musical that just finished its debut at iDiOM.

One of her most noteworthy productions called “Deception Pass: An American Story,” won two national awards from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The production is about a female soldier coming home, and it takes place on Deception Pass Bridge.

“I’m really happy with ‘Deception Pass,’”Chapman said. “People really love it.”

Hart was one of the attendees who enjoyed the production, which was put on by Western in 2013.

“[The play] being a part of Washington’s history was actually really beautiful,” Hart said.

GOING AGAINST BROADWAY

As the play finished, the characters decide to stay in space, exploring the unknown and celebrating the moments that come together. // Photo by Christina Becker
As the play finished, the characters decide to stay in space, exploring the unknown and celebrating the moments that come together. // Photo by Christina Becker

Chapman writes about things that are not commonly seen on Broadway.

“I just write plays about my culture, where I’m from and what things I think are important and relevant,” Chapman said.

Most of her plays have a female protagonist or characters with no gender implied.

“Right now, I think women’s voices are really important,” Chapman said.

For Chapman, ‘ded reckoning’ has been one of her favorite plays to write.

Chapman’s friend and coworker Rachel Anderson went as far to say “ded reckoning” is her favorite production by Chapman.

“It was sweet and seemingly light-hearted, but still had some meat to it and was fun to listen to. It really smart and clever,” Anderson said.

The theme of the musical is the idea of what home means to a person and being able to find it and understand it. Chapman wanted to have strong female characters that weren’t talking about the same things female characters talk about in mainstream media, she said.

In most theatre pieces, women are always the supporting role or their main goal is to find romance. With Chapman’s works, one sees an inertially different side of theatre that has yet to be thoroughly explored.

Beyond playwriting, she has tried her hand at writing screenplays but doesn’t have the same passion for it as she does for stage productions.

“It’s not my favorite,” Chapman said. “I adore movies and adore cinema and screenplays, but I love the freedom that playwriting gives me.”

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