The curtain rises on Monroe’s Main Street late one blustery, rainy October night.
The downtown stoplights reflect in the wet blacktop below:
Green, yellow, red.
Green, yellow, red.
Most of the well-kept shops are dark and closed. Most of the diagonal parking spots are empty.
But under an indigo awning and behind three neon signs that say, "Computer Repair," "Used Books" and "Open," a warm light oozes from the front window and elevated voices carry faintly out onto the sidewalk.
Muffled voice from inside bookstore: "Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion."
Inside, in the front end of a long store that smells at once like freshly cleaned carpets and used paperback books, between tall shelves and stacks of computer gear, a second scene is laid.
Half a dozen actors are sprawled out on the carpet. Several of them are dead. Others are not. Most are in street clothes. Others have swords.
Narrator: The actors are a handful of players from Take a Bough Productions. They are rehearsing in the Cottage Book Exchange because their former home, the Monroe Play House on N. Blakeley Street, was condemned late last month.
Though the group and all of their theatric possessions were displaced in the middle of theater season, they decided the incident would be an intermission rather than an ending.
The owner of AAA Heated Mini Storage donated a couple of storage units to the Take a Bough crew, and they packed over truckloads of costumes, lighting equipment, props and other theatrical gear.
And Mike Donow, the owner of Cottage Books (where he also recycles computers, sells bus passes, fixes computers and "spreads liberalism") gives them rehearsal space four nights a week.
On Halloween they will perform a new play in a new location: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" at 15904-A Main St. in Duvall.
That dark and blustery night, after the last words of said play’s rehearsal were uttered in the warm bookstore, the players continued their dialogue.
Condemnation of their stage and seating? Living out of a storage unit? Rehearsing in a bookstore? Struggling to get by?
Nothing new for community theater, they say.
Erica Young, 23, of Sultan: "It’s funny that community theater thrives the way it has because it’s always a struggle. But once they’re there, they love it."
Amy Irving, 30, of Seattle: "If it’s survived all that time it’s going to keep surviving. People like to tell stories, and people like to have stories told to them."
Greg Norgaard, 56, of Sultan: "Live entertainment is so …"
Young: … "magical."
Norgaard: "Yeah. Magical."
Irving: "And with late fees, it’s really the same price as a movie (rental)."
John Moore, 38, of Seattle: "And you don’t have to rewind us, and you don’t have to return us."
Narrator: Norgaard, co-producer of Take a Bough Productions, said in addition to being a venue for local theater moonlighters to participate in the arts, people such as Moore and Irving drive to Monroe for a chance to play a lead role — something that’s difficult in larger cities.
Norgaard said the passionate individuals who scrap to keep theater alive in small towns are themselves playing an important role.
Norgaard: "For a community to thrive you need to be developing culture as well as the practical and vocational needs. Our company did 40 shows in five years. One of the things that made (closing the playhouse) so hard is that last season was our best season."
Narrator: Rosen, one of the commuting actors, said small theater groups provide a chance for the actors and the audience to learn more about each other and the world.
Rosen: "It’s a shared experience, and a lot of communities lack those … it’s rewarding. I don’t know anyone who does it that doesn’t feel that way."
Narrator: In the weeks and months to come, Take a Bough Productions will continue to rehearse and perform as they look for a new home in the Snohomish-Monroe area.
Ideally, it would be a building with high ceilings, restrooms, a place for dressing rooms and it would be appropriate for 80 or so audience members plus the cast and crew. Also, the company would need to either build a stage above the seating, or raised seating above a stage. Oh — and it has to be economical.
At the Monroe Play House, Take a Bough Productions paid $900 a month in rent. They have a $35,000 annual operating budget, which goes not only for its performance and rehearsal space, but for music and play royalties, utilities, sets and costumes.
Which is why many members of the troupe play the lottery.
Norgaard: "We all have that dream, of winning the lotto. We even have the land picked out where the theater would go."
Narrator: What it all boils down to is a group of very different people, each with different reasons for being out rehearsing in a book store after 10 p.m. on a windy October night.
Norgaard: "There’s as many different reasons for people to be there as there are people. The amazing thing is to make all those different backgrounds meld into one special moment."
Narrator: And achieving that special moment as performers may make a difference for someone else.
Norgaard: "Once in a while someone walks up to me in intermission and says, ‘I’ve never seen a live play before in my life. I’ve never seen anything like it.’ It’s wonderful."
Reporter Jennifer Warnick: