Lakewood Playhouse was founded in 1938. They currently have a 180-seat theatre at the Lakewood Towne Center. Their building turned 50 Years Old in 2016. I performed in a one-act play at the old location during the summer of 1963. Over the years Peg and I have seen numerous productions at Lakewood Playhouse. The Managing Artistic Director is John Munn. I recently met with him for lunch. This is John’s eighth year as their leader. Their administrative staff includes: Education Director – Deborah L. Armstrong, Associate Artistic Director – James Venturini, Technical Director – Aaron Mohs-Hale, Master Carpenter / Facilities Manager – Larry Hagerman, and Box Office Manager – Wendy Huber. Working together they have been doing a fantastic job.
Over the last couple years I have seen connections growing between Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre. They work together and support each other. This year, Lakewood Playhouse’s eightieth, has managing director Chris Serface of Tacoma Little Theatre directing the musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.” Next year, Tacoma’s one hundredth, John will direct one of the plays.
There are a three things that have stood out at Lakewood Playhouse. One is the u-shaped seating pattern. The main part of the audience (each row is a step higher leading up from and facing the stage (generally at floor level) with two smaller two-tier audience sections on either side of the stage. The better over-all view is from the main section, however, the two side sections put you within a foot of the action on stage. Peg and I recently took Sophia, our thirteen year old granddaughter to see the Green Day musical “American Idiot.” It was sold out. Peg wound up on one side section, while Sophia and I were sitting on the opposing side. As the large cast sang and danced it felt like we were almost part of the cast as they sang and danced close by. Sophia loved it.
The second thing that has stood out is the lack of microphones. They have microphones hanging down, above the stage. Many other theaters have gone to wireless mics on the principals; the Playhouse has been buying and borrowing them for productions. By the end of this season Lakewood Playhouse will have a full complement of their own twenty mics for their actors.
The third aspect is the upstairs bathrooms, which are undergoing massive changes. Orca Granite & Stone is helping out with new counters and sinks. Ed Selden Carpet One is helping out with carpet, floors, and wainscoting. Privacy will no longer be an issue. This should all be done by the opening night of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The last production of the 2016 season was a personal favorite of Peg and me: “Pirates of Penzance”. John Munn played The Pirate King a fake bad guy. In “Wait Until Dark” he played a bad, bad guy. He’s versatile. I’ve liked working with John, but haven’t really known that much about him. Last week I had lunch with him. Before that lunch I had no idea how many connections and similarities we had.
John began acting when he was sixteen; I was also sixteen when I signed up for an acting class at Clover Park High School. I took three courses from Virginia Heidbreder. John is a member of the Clover Park Rotary, one of my favorite Rotary Clubs and he will be president in 2020. I was president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 in 1996/97. I hit it off with the Clover Park president, Earle Sternburg and we decided to switch clubs for one day. I attended their club and presided over the club for the day. When the program speaker was unable to join us I even became the speaker and talked about movie quotations and my favorite films. A few months later Earle presided over a meeting at Rotary #8. Over time I became friends with Dave Sclair and Gene Pankey at Clover Park Rotary and became involved in their hearing regeneration project.
At Clover Park H.S. in my sophomore and junior years my band and orchestra teacher/conductor was Ron Mellom. His wife is a past president of Clover Park Rotary. Ron left teaching and became a financial adviser. My drama teacher, Mrs. Heidbreder and Ron’s replacement as head of the band and orchestra program, Mr. Bayne both wrote fantastic letters of recommendation as part of my application for acceptance at Pacific Lutheran University. My grades let me down, so I attended the University of Puget Sound instead. John had a football scholarship lined up at PLU, but he lost it when his grades fell after he transferred to Charles Wright Academy. PLU football icon, Coach Frosty Westering broke the news to him. John ended up taking part in a special program at PLU, so completed his connection with PLU. Our connection was complete when our youngest son married a PLU graduate.
Lakewood Playhouse, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, and Tacoma Little Theatre are community theaters. That means their productions are made up of local non-professional actors. Some other theaters like the old Tacoma Actors Guild use professional actors. “A professional actor is someone who is paid to act. Professional actors sometimes undertake unpaid work for a variety of reasons, including educational purposes or for charity events. Amateur actors are those who do not receive payment for performances.” – Wikipedia
Non-professional does not mean un-professional or not worthy of pay. We have used actors from both Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre (Tim Hoban and Scott C. Brown) in numerous video productions. Mostly professionals are covered by union agreements. We’ve hired both. There is a lot of acting talent in the Pacific Northwest.
I asked John about local programs for training young actors. I didn’t realize that most of our local theaters have programs, but they don’t work together. Last season Peg and I took granddaughters to comical renditions of several Shakespeare creations. Lakewood Playhouse has expanded its Youth Education program to include youth and adults. The Lakewood Institute of Theatre includes youth theatre, summer and winter break camps, youth and adult theatre education classes, and seasonal productions. Both of these theaters produce plays featuring their own young actors. John would like to see more sharing and perhaps some cross-over of efforts between theaters.
I enjoyed chatting with John. He’s serious about his life, his family, the theater, and his community. There’s not quite a twinkle in his eye, but you can tell John Munn . . . is having fun.