Orcas Center is reopening to the public | Fundraising is on now for a $100,000 matching grant

A beloved community resource has undergone a major makeover.

From brand new theatre seating to a reinvigorated costume shop, all are invited to check out what Orcas Center staff has accomplished in the past 17 months when it reopens to the public on Sept. 18.

For the next two weeks, a $100,000 fundraising campaign is underway to receive a matching grant of the same amount from island residents David Dotlich and Doug Elwood.

“We believe that Orcas Center is one of the crown jewels of the island,” Dotlich said. “It is such an asset that provides so much entertainment, education and inspiration to everyone who wants to access it. With the pandemic, these institutions need our support and help … Orcas Center can help lead us out of the pandemic. It can give us something to be joyful about. And the team there now is so great that we know the money will be used wisely.”

The non-profit is already halfway to its goal and welcomes contributions of any size at www.orcascenter.org or 360-376-ACT1.

“I feel so grateful,” said Membership Director Nicole Matisse. “It shows how we are really showing up in the community. You can feel a new energy. We are super committed as a community center.”

The open house on Sept. 18 from 1 to 4 p.m.was originally slated to be a roll-out event in the main theatre. With fall programming up in the air amid a resurgence of COVID cases, the organization opted for a safer offering that still allows patrons to view all of the facility upgrades. Attendees can also peruse Frank Loudin’s original works, which are being sold as a benefit to Orcas Center.

The non-profit closed to the public in March 2020. Since then, a cadre of dedicated volunteers have worked alongside staff members to paint interior rooms and walls; refinish wood floors; replace every lightbulb (more than 250) with LED bulbs and install new racks and reorganize the costume shop. The volunteer team consisted of Steve Alboucq, Denise Beckwith, Patricia Benton, Dorrie Braun, Kevin Colomby, Bianca Cox, David Densmore, Pierrette Guimond, Mike Hayworth, Sidney Hayworth, Marty Kaylor, Erik Koehler, Liz Kistler, Tiffany Loney, Kai McGreggor, Michael McGreggor, Russ Muscarella, Gene Nery, Mike and Lisa Seehoff, Richard Track and David and Geri Turnoy.

Other changes to the facility include an energy-efficient HVAC system; updated kitchen appliances; a resurfaced and re-striped parking lot and more than 200 new theatre chairs. Over the summer, donors bought the chairs — complete with an engraved placard on the arm — for $500 each. Irwin Seating Company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan is handling the project, which will wrap up this week.

During the closure, OC was helmed by Executive Director Dimitri Stankevich, Artistic Director Jake Perrine, Membership Director Nicole Matisse, Communications Director Bethany Marie and Bookkeeper Marcia West, who is retiring this month. The organization received a handful of grants to bolster the bottom line during the pandemic and held a successful telethon fundraising event last winter.

In addition to building improvements, Stankevich arranged for the facility to host COVID-19 vaccine clinics and testing services, and artistic Director Jake Perrine has been offering a variety of live-streaming concerts online thanks to local donors who funded the purchase of high-end, professional streaming equipment.

“It adds an entirely new capacity to what Orcas Center can provide to the community,” said Perrine. “I think we will be offering live streams of pretty much everything that happens on the stage for years to come. It not only makes what we do available to those who cannot join us in-person for health reasons but also allows us to expand our audience to the world.”

Perrine also overhauled the tech booth in the main theatre.

“Over the years since Orcas Center was built, theatre technologies have changed completely several times over — audio, video, lighting, projections, networking and communication to name a few areas. Remnants of all those abandoned or obsoleted systems are everywhere throughout the center,” he said. “During our closure, Dimitri and I spent long hours assessing, pulling and upgrading many of these systems. In the tech booth alone we removed yards and yards of cable and conduit and replaced them with easily accessible cable chases for a cleaner and more modern workflow.

This summer, Perrine put together an outdoor season of summer entertainment offerings in the Village Green in partnership with Doe Bay Resort, which hosted the visiting artists. The free, family-friendly concerts were widely attended.

“We would love to do it again next summer but it would take some serious underwriting,” Stankevich said.

In August, Orcas Center partnered with the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival for the theatre’s first in-person event since 2019. It was a hybrid of live-streaming and a limited number of in-person seats. The Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend implemented a similar format. The Orcas Dance Collective began holding classes in the center’s dance studio at the start of summer, culminating with a community performance in the Village Green at the end of August. A new session of offerings begins in mid-September. This fall, theatre-goers can enjoy a small number of traveling acts and the OC-produced play “Tragedy: A Tragedy” on the main stage in November.

“The Board of Trustees has been very grateful to the island community for supporting Orcas Center throughout the pandemic,” said board president Bev Polis. “We have not been idle and are eager to open the doors, slowly welcome the community back into their building and show off what we have been up to. We are very grateful for the generosity of David Dotlich and Doug Elwood. It is so inspiring to have their support and we look forward to a bright future for Orcas Center.”