Following the closure of Yelm’s Triad Theater in 2019, Thurston County’s community theaters were relegated to only Olympia. That will change soon with the opening of a new community theater just 30 minutes south of Washington’s capital. Tenino Young at Heart Theatre (TYT), the town’s oldest theater company, has recently acquired a plot of land on Sussex Avenue. Plans are now in place to construct an entirely new community theater, with four to five TYT productions expected to place per year.
“The reaction to our news has been quite significant. I have received calls, emails and messages of how excited and pleased folks are about the purchase and movement towards building a theater,” said TYT founder Robert McKenzieSullivan.
The acquired land was purchased with funds from an anonymous donor, purported to be TYT’s biggest fan. McKenzieSullivan hopes an increase in local productions will bring additional patrons down to Tenino, patronizing local businesses as well.
“The activities of the theater will help to put Tenino on the map,” said McKenzieSullivan. “Many people in our neighboring cites think of Tenino as a long way away. The fact is we are only 13 miles from downtown Olympia, so we hope that people will be attracted to the theater and so recognize, ‘Gee, Tenino is really close,’ and has many opportunities for entertainment and shopping.”
The theater will also display the works of Tenino artists, encouraging patrons to support them. The location will be utilized as an arts hub, with lectures and concerts taking place in the space as well. McKenzieSullivan hopes the future theater can serve as a platform for arts education in the Tenino community.
Tenino Young at Heart Theatre has a 30-year history of upholding the arts. McKenzieSullivan remembers when the children of the neighborhood would enact Robin Hood plays in the backyard, “consisting mostly of flailing swords,” he added. “My boys — mostly Isaac — pestered me to do a real play like I had done at the elementary school where I was teaching. They had seen ‘Johnny Appleseed,’ so I mounted the same show here in Tenino with our neighborhood kids and others from town, with [over] 20 in the cast and a hardworking crew of parents. We haven’t stopped until COVID hit.”
The first two years of TYT shows were performed at St. Peter Catholic Church, located on Tenino’s Keithahn Street. After that, Tenino High School served as the home for TYT productions until 2020 when the pandemic ensued. But that did not stop the theater company. TYT recently celebrated its 30th-anniversary show, The 30 Years Celebration, in a recorded video uploaded last November.
McKenzieSullivan and the rest of TYT have since secured a new performance location while the new theater is built. Wayne Fournier, the mayor of Tenino, invited TYT to perform in the town’s Quarry Pool (with the water drained), where they’ll perform A Year With Frog and Toad July 15-25. The play was chosen for its smaller cast — only six actors. Most TYT productions have upwards of 40 people, but A Year With Frog and Toad allows the actors to socially distance in an outdoor location, resulting in a safer experience.
Fournier is a longtime supporter of TYT, stating he is “beyond excited” with the news of their land acquisition. “TYT has joined in as part of a greater effort to build on the creative sector in Tenino after the establishment of Tenino as a state-certified creative district,” said the mayor in a statement. “Having a performing arts center as a centerpiece to our amazing downtown will pay dividends to our community for generations, in more ways than we have yet to understand.”
Thurston county residents can look forward to a community celebration in September, when a conceptual drawing of the theater will be unveiled along with an evening of performance, music, food and tales of TYT.
“I am thrilled,” McKenzieSullivan said. “Eventually we will be able to do so much for the community.”
A Year With Frog and Toad
Tenino Quarry Pool
6:30 p.m., July 15, 16, 21 and 22
2 p.m., July 17, 18 and 25
3 p.m. July 24
Free – $15