The Olympia theater scene is no stranger to the idea of a performer who can seamlessly transition from actress to director to playwright without skipping a beat. One such performer is local actor, director and playwright Kate Ayers, who has over 20 years of experience in the world of theater. She’s also one of the few artists in the region who’s consistently made her full-time employment in the arts. “I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to make my living in theater,” she says.
Ayers comes to the local stage with vast experience including years of professional training. She went to Columbia College for film and studied alongside Gillian Anderson, John C. Reilly and other notable actors and directors at the Goodman Theater School in Chicago. Ayers also studied at the Playback Theatre at Vassar College and holds a master’s degree from the University of Indianapolis.
Ayers has found great success in a decades-long career and has worked with everyone from Oscar-winning actors to small children just starting out in acting and singing roles to hardened criminals learning the ropes in a prison-theater program.
In her extensive career, Ayers has been featured in national touring shows, acted in nationally recognized Shakespeare productions and created theater groups herself. Prior to coming to the Pacific Northwest, she founded the Indianapolis Children’s Theatre and led that group to regional success for nine years. After her leadership of the Indianapolis Children’s Theatre, she organized a groundbreaking playback-theater program at the Indiana Women’s Prison.
Ayers decided to move to the Pacific Northwest after vacationing in the area with a friend. She moved to Olympia in 2012, then auditioned for Olympia Family Theater (OFT) on a whim: “I thought, what the heck, I’ll audition. At the time, I was doing a lot of traveling and a lot of theater… I had a really lucky break.” Ayers’s talent has given her that “lucky break.” Since moving to Olympia, she’s been a featured actor for multiple local theater companies. Her astonishing range has been demonstrated in recent work as a lively (and hilarious) pig in Olympia Family Theater’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue, as the flying title character Peter Pan in the Olympia School District production, as a ribald Shakespearean scene-stealer in Animal Fire Theater’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, a federal litigant in 8: The Play at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts and the violent “Mr. White” in Theater Artists Olympia’s production of Reservoir Dogs.
Ayers is also an accomplished playwright. Her script for a unique version of Alice in Wonderland is on stage at OFT through March, and many other recent OFT productions have been scripted by Ayers. Recently, she made a list of the various productions she’s written and was surprised to discover she’s authored over 150 scripts for audiences young and old. She hopes to have an online marketplace for her scripts soon, so it’s easier for theater companies and instructors to make use of her scripts. They’re already used by groups and teachers nationwide.
Ayers has served local theater companies as a program director, a playwright and a regular on-call stage director. For the past five years, she was the director of daytime activities for Olympia Family Theater. In fact, several of OFT’s current daytime programs were co-created by Ayers and OFT managing director Jen Ryle. From OFT’s “Let’s Play Daytime Shows” to the “On the Move” touring productions, Ayers was happy to contribute to the growth of OFT as a regional, children’s-theater powerhouse. As an actress, she’s a regular on the OFT stage, where she’s been featured in Goodnight Moon, Go, Dog. Go!, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lyle the Crocodile, Pinocchio and A Year With Frog and Toad. She also directed many of OFT’s recent mainstage productions including Elephant and Piggie’s “We are in a Play!” and The Monster Under the Bed.
“At Olympia Family Theater,” Ayers explained, “there’s an introduction to the arts. So what I try to do in the program, especially with the very young, is use folktales and classic literature that they might not be getting (otherwise). Olympia is a very special community. I think there’s an emphasis on reading and books, but I don’t know if that’s true in all areas of our country.”
In late 2016, Ayers took on a new role as interim director of the Gwinwood Christian Camp and Conference Center in Lacey. This new role made it necessary for her to change her schedule and move on from her management of theater programs at OFT. However, she still tries to contribute as much as she can to the long-term success of local theater companies. She was a featured actress in Playhouse Creatures at Theater Artists Olympia, and her adroit sound engineering was featured in OFT’s Starry Messenger.
Recently, she’s expanded her repertoire to the adaptation of books and the writing of her own young-adult novels. The future holds many possibilities for Ayers. “Human beings are storytellers,” she says. “We go out with our friends and we tell stories to each other. There’s a need for that in community. We tell stories, and theater tells stories. As people and as a society, we can relate to that. We develop empathy toward others by listening to stories and sharing stories.”
What: Alice in Wonderland
When: 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, March 17 – April 3;
7 p.m. Thursday, March 31
Where: Olympia Family Theater,
612 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
How much: $13-$19 (March 31 is pay-what-you-can)
Learn more: 360-570-1638 │ Olympia Family Theater