Creative Theatre Experience: Building Generations of Local Actors

By Molly Gilmore

Since it started in 1981, Olympia’s Creative Theatre Experience (CTE) has produced 120 summer shows. It’s also built the confidence and skills of two generations of theater-loving students. “Forty years is pretty impressive,” said Elizabeth Swanson, vice president of the CTE board. “We now have children in the program whose parents were in it when they were young.”

The program aims to serve both the children and teens who come as students and those who work as interns, teaching the younger participants and directing short plays, said Kathy Dorgan, the artistic director of the summer theater program. “CTE’s philosophy has always been youth mentoring youth,” she said.

“The program means so much to my kids,” said Swanson of Lacey, whose daughters, Lynlea, 13, and Chloe, 12, have participated in the program for the past five summers. “They look forward to it every year. The performances are very fun, but they talk a lot more about relationships and interactions than they do about specific activities or specific songs. To them, it’s really about the connections they make with other people.”

Photo courtesy Creative Theatre Experience

Creative Theatre Experience offers several workshop options for students in grades 1 through 12. Arts Festival, for students entering grades 1-7, produces an evening of short plays and songs. Students entering grades 6-12 can choose from working on a musical — this summer, it will be “Shrek: The Musical” — or a play — William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” There’s also a program that focuses on technical skills for those who prefer to work behind the scenes.

The program’s staff includes some well-known names in South Sound theater. The musical program, called Showcase, is directed by Jason Haws, a teacher at Marshall Middle School and a well-regarded local actor who recently appeared in Harlequin Productions’Noises Off,” which ran at the State Theater through Feb. 8. Paul Purvine, who was a regular on Olympia stages till he moved to New York, returns each summer to direct Spotlight, the program focused on straight plays. Equity actor Carolyn Willems Van Djik (Fry), a regular at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, does costumes for the program, and actor/director Harrison Fry, her husband, serves as technical director.

Photo courtesy Creative Theatre Experience

The Arts Festival plays are directed (and sometimes written) by the interns, all former CTE participants. This year, there’s a new director for Arts Festival, Sigal Kadden of Amherst, Massachusetts, herself a former CTE student who appeared in the program’s musicals for four years and then worked as an intern for five. “She was one of our longest-serving interns,” Dorgan said. “She completely fell in love with the program, and when she was leaving as an intern, she said, ‘I want to come back.’ ”

“CTE felt like home,” said Kadden, who has worked as a preschool teacher and taught theater and is working toward a master’s degree in school counseling at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “It’s one of my favorite places in the world.”

The program changed Kadden’s life, she said. “I got so much out of working with the kids,” she said. “I often say that I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t been in CTE as a kid. It was being an intern that really showed me what I could do in the world.”


Creative Theatre Experience summer programs


Arts Festival 7 p.m. July 16 and 17 and 1 p.m. July 18,

“Much Ado About Nothing” 7 p.m. July 23-25

“Shrek: The Musical” 7 p.m. July 30 and 31 and 1 and 7 p.m. Aug. 1


The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts,

2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia





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