In early 1994, Louise Mills, one of the founders of Bainbridge Light Opera (later to become Bainbridge Performing Arts) and proud owner of an impressive collection of rare vintage evening wear, persuaded her friend Michele McCrackin to direct and perform in an independent production of the 1926 Broadway comedy, The Play’s the Thing by P.G. Wodehouse (adapted from a play by Ferenc Molnár), a fizzy romantic farce that had all the characters in formal evening dress throughout. Louise raised money to rent the Bainbridge High School auditorium for three weeks in March ’94. The cast included Dave Allen, Steve Buechler, Bob Zinn, Michele McCrackin, Bob McAllister, Steve Stolee, Bob Cederwall, and Miles Yanick, with costumes by Mary Braden and Marilyn Boynton, set design by Will Langemack, assistant direction by Kate Carruthers, stage management by Steve Nicolet, lighting by Jane Jay, and publicity by Cynthia Sears.
At the end of a successful run, producer Louise proudly hosted the cast and crew for dinner at the then new Karsten’s Restaurant in Suquamish. Finishing the meal with toasts, Louise addressed the group, “Well, our show made money [cheer] and I want to ask you all what you think I should do with it: I could give you all a share of it, which would be about $50 apiece; or … [dramatic pause] … we could start a new theatre company!” The decision was unanimous and Island Theatre was born and named at a subsequent meeting in the fall of 1994 at Dave and Julie Allen’s house. The first board members were: Mary Braden, Steve Buechler, Kate Carruthers, Michele McCrackin, Louise Mills, Steve Nicolet; and Cynthia Sears, with Steve Stolee serving as its first president. The new theatre company’s goal was to produce adultoriented plays rather than musicals or children’s productions, which were already well-covered by other local theatres.
Island Theatre became a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in 1995 and produced its first play, Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward, directed by Ron Milton, that fall at the BHS Auditorium. Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley followed in March 1995, directed by Michele McCrackin. In July and August of 1995, IT staged two outdoor productions: Love Letters by A.R. Gurney and a musical revue, Love Songs, directed by Ron Milton.
In 1994, 1995 and 1997, IT sponsored the Seattle Symphony Family Concerts on Bainbridge after the former host organization gave up the opportunity. June 1996 saw the production of The Nerd by Larry Shue, directed by Kate Carruthers and performed at Bainbridge Performing Arts, followed by Love Letters by A.R. Gurney presented on the deck at the Bloedel Reserve in August.
In 1996 and 97, IT produced two live radio shows titled: “On the Air: From the Golden Age of Radio” under the direction of Frank Buxton, from his own collection of authentic radio scripts. They were performed in what was then the Bainbridge Commons (now Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center). The second radio show also had a performance in Port Townsend. During those same early years, IT also produced several readings in private homes. IT’s big break, so to speak, came with its collaboration, in 1998, with the Bainbridge Public Library to present a regular season of bi-monthly staged play readings at the library, a project that supported the missions of both organizations. Those productions continue today, along with “potluck” play readings (Island Theatre at Your House, or YoHo) in private homes. IT also participates periodically in the Kitsap Regional Library’s One Book, One Community program by performing a staged play reading, tied to that year’s book selection, at Kitsap County library branches.
Through it all, IT has operated with an all-volunteer board, a minimal budget, and without its own theater, giving rise to its motto, “Can we rehearse at YOUR house?” In 2012, IT launched the Island Theatre Ten-Minute Play Festival, the brainchild of then IT board member Sara Scribner, to showcase plays by established and emerging playwrights from throughout Kitsap County. Now in its fifth year, the TMPF typically draws over 50 entries, with the top plays, as selected by a panel of theatre professionals, performed over a weekend in August to packed houses at Bainbridge Performing Arts.
With some exceptions, Island Theatre productions are free to the community, with donations gratefully accepted. Since its inception, IT has presented close to 200 plays at the Bainbridge Public Library or on another stage.