by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
Running a theater company requires a large package of talents—artistic sensibilities, intelligence, management and people skills and enthusiasm. Meet Linda and Scot Whitney, founders and managers of Harlequin Productions, the celebrated local company that’s produced more than 170 shows since 1991. Linda directs, writes and designs sets. Scot directs and manages. “We share some of the various requirements of the day-to-day operations and general fire-dousing and crocodile-wrangling as required,” Linda says. “Our job descriptions emerged from the ‘Who’s Good at This?’ playbook. Over time we have come to work very effectively together and consult helpfully on each other’s work. We’ve worked successfully together for 32 years! Impossible!” She says they didn’t actually “come up with the idea” of starting a theater company. “Sometimes events choose you. It was a cumulative process that evolved over several years.”
The Whitneys met in 1980. He was a filmmaker with five educational films in distribution, one of which, a comic approach to oral hygiene called Please Take Care of Your Teeth, won a blue ribbon at the American Film Festival in 1984 and went on to be distributed in seven countries. Linda was working in graphics and painting, and by 1985 they were working together in their own graphics firm, Whitney Design. As a sideline, Linda had gotten into scenic design for community theaters and ultimately began directing. Scot took on a fringe project for the 1990 Seattle Directors Festival and won a “Best Of” award.
Harlequin Productions began with start-up funding of a mere $400. It produced shows in the Washington Center Stage II for seven seasons and then bought the State Theater. The Whitneys opened their first season there with the Stardust holiday show in November 1998.
Linda says what she likes best is working with the team: actors, designers, technicians. “However corny it sounds, there really is a spontaneous blossoming of family feeling that comes out of these projects. We are all committed to each other, and our company also values the work of all participants equally. The performer on stage is no more important than the follow-spot operator.”
Scot says, “My favorite aspect of theater is rehearsal. I love working with actors to tell a story. It’s the discovery in the rehearsal room that ignites my sparks.” They agree that fundraising, while essential, is their least favorite job.
What are their favorite plays? Scot says it’s The Understudy, running currently. “I love this play! The cast and everything else about it are fantastic.” Other favorites include The 39 Steps, Clybourne Park, Cyrano de Bergerac, Hamlet, The Mating Dance of the Werewolf, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Seafarer, Sins of the Mother, The Tempest and The Weir. “To tell the truth, I love most of them,” he says. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to direct anything I want, and I only choose plays that I love. From my perspective, it’s too much work to do it for any other reason.”
Asked about the future of Harlequin Productions, Linda says, “First I have to visit the past. We are at a turning point. We’ve survived 26 years as a small, professional company that employs a resident staff and contracts with around 140 performers, designers, technicians and musicians per season. We drive between $800,000 and $1,000,000 through the local economy a year. That we’ve been able to do this outside of a metropolitan center is a miracle, but the windows of opportunity for real funding growth in this community are shutting down.”
Scot emphasizes the need to “stabilize our income so we can do our work and keep our building and equipment in shape.” With that goal in mind, they brought in a new development director, Hap Clemons, from Indianapolis. “His vast experience has put some wind in our sails,” says Linda, “and we are working out new strategies that may allow us to move forward with confidence.”
What: The Understudy
Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday,
2 p.m. Sunday through March 25
How much: $20-$34
Learn more: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions