Story By: Ben Dugger // Photos By: Ben Dugger & contributors
In a world full of endless technological advances, various forms of entertainment are being pushed out of business. These advancements, such as social media and on-demand movie watching outlets, provide a growing list of reasons why you should never leave the house, much less, your computer. However, this hasn’t always been the way we have consumed entertainment.
Long before “Netflix and chill” was even a conceivable thought, or buying the new Xbox was the cool thing to do, going to the theater was all the rage. Western theater has roots that date back to 6th-Century Greece, and has survived the test of time, continuing to be a popular form of entertainment.
The Richland Players are a non-profit organization that is completely volunteer run, not that you could tell by the quality of their productions. The organization has been a staple in the Pacific Northwest for over 70 years, and continues the rich tradition of performance theater in Richland, WA. Their tagline, “Entertainment—Inspiration—Education,” is clearly defined in their mission statement on their website: “The Richland Players Theatre is committed to serving the Mid-Columbia region by entertaining, inspiring, and educating audiences and artists through the shared experience of live theatre.”
Deven Austin, a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Performance student at Central, recently played the title role in “Cyrano de Bergerac”. When asked why he decided to audition for a production by the Richland Players, he replied, “Being a theatre major, I try and audition as much as possible. Luckily, the Richland Players were putting on “Cyrano de Bergerac”. As the theatre was close to my home town it was a perfect setup for me. That specific play is a phenomenal piece of literature that I had the honor to be a part of. It's a playhouse that has been around for over 70 years. Being able to watch and perform at the Richland Players is like participating in a piece of history that will continue long after we are gone.”
The experience appeared to be rewarding to Austin and served as a valuable learning experience. “I learned how an entire theatre can be held together by one staff member and a plethora of hard-working and talented volunteers. It's refreshing to see people who are so in love with the performing arts that they are willing to put their free time into making this theatre a reality,” says Austin.
After reaching out to the Richland Players General Manager, Michael Wutzke, it became obvious that the Richland Players is a theater that touches peoples’ lives in a way that is almost incomparable to any other form of entertainment in America.
“Theatre offers the audience an opportunity of escape. To watch real people on stage portraying lives and stories. What’s special is the storytelling happens within a crowd of live spectators. Live performing arts, whether dance, theatre or music cannot compare to television, film or even literature because it happens within a group; viewing a group,” states Wutzke.
“I only joined, studied, played and now work within theatre; specifically, The Players, because theatre is a place where artists meet,” Wutzke explains. “I feel I have a place within the deep history of the community within The Richland Players organization. My first show onstage I didn't have a single line or word to say, but the folks around me made me feel welcome.”
Anyone can participate in the theater; as an usher or simply making coffee for the crew, to auditioning for a role or being stage crew, but the Richland Players are entirely composed of volunteers. Students of all ages, seasoned, veteran Hollywood actors or an amateur or beginner stage actor are always welcomed to audition. “A [Richland Players] production can be a launching point for a student. Just seeing a production can inspire people to investigate the words, follow the call to be a performer, or enjoy the comradely of the spectator,” says Wutzke. Theater doesn’t just let people escape from reality in one sitting, like books and movies; it’s a much more immersive experience. Performing Arts brings people together for a moment in time to experience an art form and no two shows will ever be the same.
The next production is “The Game’s Afoot”, opening on November 18th at the Richland Players Theater. For more information about volunteering, tickets, or upcoming events, visit their website at richlandplayers.org.