20 Years Under the Stars with Island Stage Left
One of the most unique experiences you can have in the San Juans is watching a play under the stars
Many people aren't aware of it, but the San Juan Islands have a thriving theater scene, with excellent productions being put on all year round. For the past 20 year, one of the most distinctive production companies, Island Stage Left, has been treading the boards under the stars, in fields of lavender and on the shores of the Salish Sea.
This intrepid troupe was co-founded in 1999 by professional thespians Helen Machin-Smith and Daniel Mayes, who moved to San Juan Island to "fulfill their dream of creating their own theater company and bringing the performing arts to a small, close-knit community in a beautiful place." After two decades, they are still here, going strong, with a 20th-anniversary redux of their first production, Shakespeare's The Tempest.
To Machin-Smith and Mayes, choosing this play was a no-brainer.
A magical island setting. Check.
The Tempest is William Shakespeare's last solo work, and one of his most popular and entertaining plays, complete with spells, spirits, romance, treachery and forgiveness.
"It speaks to what is best and worst in us all, but forgiveness and love are at its core," says Machin-Smith.
Set on an island where magic is all around (sound familiar?), The Tempest features a magician named Prospero, who is able to control the elements and cast spells over nature. But he also carries a grudge, resenting the men who wronged him earlier in life. When their ship appears on the horizon, he creates a "vast magical storm" that results in washing his enemies up onto the shore. When they wake they find themselves lost on a fantastical island where nothing is as it seems.
And there you sit with your picnic and bottle of wine under the stars, watching it all play out.
Twenty years of theatre in the Islands
Since that first play, the company has produced many Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean works ranging from classic to the contemporary, with professional actors and talented crew. Other shows have included James Goldman's The Lion in Winter and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. Last year's Annapurna by Sharr White, was a funny and moving story of "the longevity of love" set in an Airstream trailer in the middle of nowhere, with the set envisioned and built by inventive local crew members.
"Island Stage Left has taken on works that move, works that speak of the human spirit, and works that challenge," says Machin-Smith. They also have done a delightful holiday show every year called Ominum Gatherum (a 16th-century term for a collection of people or things), with songs, skits, poems and goodies offered in an old-fashioned holiday atmosphere.
Another cool element to Island Stage Left's "moveable feast" of theater, is that the company has taken many of these productions to islands throughout the archipelago, including San Juan, Lopez, Orcas, Waldron, and Shaw, and played in a range of venues. This summer there will be productions staged at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island, at the stage on Wold Road near the Lavender Farm on San Juan Island, at Lopez Island Vineyards, and even on Shaw Island at the Community Ball Field.
Here's wishing Island Stage Left a happy 20th Anniversary!
20th Anniversary Show The Tempest
Find out more about this summer's Island Stage Left productions on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw.