At a time when the pandemic has made many theater companies hesitant even to make plans, South Sound’s Goldfinch Productions is ready for takeoff on its 2021 season. The plucky nonprofit, founded in 2018 with the goal of opening a theater and studio in Lacey, will produce a half-dozen audio plays, with possibilities for video and live performance later in the year.
It’s the most ambitious season the fledgling company has yet produced — and it’s more necessary than ever, said Goldfinch artistic director Kevin McManus. “We’ve got to do theater,” he told OLY ARTS. “We’ve got to find a way to continue to create, or we’re just going to lose everything as an arts community.”
“This has been a collective trauma unlike any ever suffered in the modern age,” he wrote in a letter announcing the season to the theater community “We believe that our community needs the arts in order to heal. Instead of withdrawing into ourselves and protecting our limited resources, we’ve decided to step up and stick through it with our patrons and performers.”
The season’s offerings include Angelina Weld Grimké’s “Rachel,” one of the first American plays written by a Black playwright about the Black experience, and Sutton Vane’s “Outward Bound,” about a group of strangers on a mysterious ocean voyage. Both will debut on 95.3 KGY FM, where the company’s “Dr. Faustus” aired in October. Those shows will also be available on the Goldfinch Podcast Network, as will the remainder of the season — “Saint Joan,” by George Bernard Shaw; “Trifles,” by Susan Glaspell; Shakespeare’s “Othello” and an improvised holiday production based on Elizabeth Anderson’s “The Goblins’ Christmas.”
McManus hopes to stage “Othello” in South Sound parks, as he did with Goldfinch’s first production, 2019’s “As You Like It.” “We desperately want to be performing live,” he said. “If there is any way that it is safe to do it, we will perform that one live. Maybe a park show is exactly the kind of reintroduction to going out and seeing theater again that people need.” But whether or not it can be done live, “Othello” will be available online.
If some of the planned productions sound unfamiliar, that might be because they are all at least 100 years old. “One of our board members, Ed Thorpe, is really into bringing those old classics back and adapting them for the modern age,” McManus said. “We don’t have to pay for rights for those, which makes it really easy to produce them and make them available and accessible as radio plays.”
Andrea Weston-Smart, who’ll be directing “Rachel,” had never heard of the 1916 play before McManus asked her to direct it. “It’s a play about the African-American experience, and all the characters are African-American, so he thought it should be directed by an African-American director,” said Weston-Smart, a first-time director well known for her roles with Olympia Little Theatre and Olympia Family Theater.
“It’s kind of weird to direct for the first time with a radio play,” she added. “Everything is about the vocal inflection and the nuance. In a way, it feels like it might be more difficult.”
Weston-Smart acted in “As You Like It” and is excited to be working again with Goldfinch. “They’re willing to branch out and try things,” she said. “With so many other theaters, it’s hard to get things moving along for any number of reasons — not least of which is a building. They need to pay for upkeep. With Goldfinch, there is no building. They are starting out new.”
The young company’s determination to keep making art at this difficult time might seem unlikely, but Goldfinch is in a better position than many larger companies, McManus said. “We’re able to respond to what we were handed,” he said. “We don’t have any paid staff.… We don’t have any overhead. We have a storage unit and our website, and those are our two bills every month.” With grants the company applied for at the beginning and donations it’s received since, he expects Goldfinch to come out of the pandemic in the black.
McManus of Seattle started Goldfinch while living in Olympia and has retained his enthusiasm for the project despite geographic challenges that will increase once live performances resume. Though he’s turned his attention to podcasts for now, he is still determined to create a theater and studio space in Lacey. Several of the organization’s board members live in Lacey, including Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt.
When he decided to start a theater company, McManus considered basing it in Olympia or in Yelm, where he’d previously lived. Then he realized that Lacey lacked a theater company beyond Just Between Friends, which produces cabaret shows. “People who live in Lacey love their community,” he said, “and it seemed odd to me that they didn’t have their own unique creative identity.”
McManus said he’s excited that Lacey is a bit more diverse than Olympia and Tumwater and is aiming to do one or two shows per year with a focus on communities of color. “I want people to see themselves in the work that arts organizations are doing,” he said.
Goldfinch Productions 2021 season
“Rachel” Feb. 28; “Saint Joan” April 25; “Trifles” June 27; “Othello” in August; “Outward Bound” Oct. 24; “The Goblins’ Christmas” Dec. 19
Free, with donations encouraged