Starting up ‘Upstart’

  • Mike Murray<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 10:00am

Starting a new theater company is a huge undertaking, doubly so when you’re not only casting the show, putting together the production team and finding a stage, but also writing the actual play and directing it, too.

Meet Jeff Stilwell, the founding force behind, and artistic director of, Kindred Circle Players, Snohomish County’s newest theater company that opens its inaugural production tonight in Everett.

The show is called “Penny Upstart and the Widget War,” a comic take on corporate life that will play four weekends at the PUD Auditorium in Everett.

Stilwell describes it as a whimsical story of a cute, confident, perky and hip young woman named Penny Upstart who is navigating her first days on the job at The Widget Factory.

It’s here that she meets an odd-ball cast of characters and finds herself, in Stilwell’s words:

“Fending off the advances of the ferret-like TeraByte Underling, befriending the reclusively shy Francis Wannabee, dodging the tyrannical Mrs. Parched and helping the hapless Mr. DoGood stop the nefarious Mr. Overbearing from selling the Widget Factory off for parts.”

Kindred Circle Players is an off-shoot of the Kindred Circle Art Gallery in downtown Edmonds. Stilwell and his wife, Manya Schilperoort, founded the gallery four years ago and the business has prospered, Stilwell said.

With that project well under way, Stilwell has had time to pursue other interests. He’s always been interested in theater, did some acting in school and found he had a knack for writing plays, crediting “all those years of reading Jane Austin.”

His first play was “No Middle Ground,” a dark story of family dysfunction that played in Seattle in November 2002 and was well received, he said.

“It was a big surprise to both of us,” Stilwell said. “We realized I could write.”

“Penny Upstart,” which has a cast of six, takes a sunnier, quirkier and funnier view of life.

Like Neil Simon, Stilwell said he’s interested in exploring the ridiculous situations that people put themselves in and in writing comedy, and “Penny Upstart” is a blend of verbal humor, puns and irony and outright slapstick, he said.

“It’s a very nice, heartwarming story.” And it’s family rated for ages 10 and older.

So what’s an Edmonds-based theater company doing in Everett?

They needed a home, and the PUD Auditorium fit the bill, Stilwell said. The theater, which is used by several theater organizations including the Northwest Savoyards, has the room and technical facilities for the kind of theater Stilwell wants to do. He even promises some pyrotechnics in the inaugural show.

The technical crew includes people with a wide variety of theater experience, including work at the historic Everett Theatre, Village Theatre, Civic Light Opera and other local companies.

The actors’ backgrounds range from work in the equity houses in Seattle to local groups such as the Driftwood Players.

Anne Kennedy, a senior at Seattle Pacific University studying music, plays the role of Penny Upstart.

At 21, she’s at the beginning of what she hopes will be an acting career and she is excited about starring in this show.

“I did an audition in June for the Theater of Puget Sound. Jeff found me and called me later that summer,” she said, and she’s been working on the role since fall.

Her acting credits range from school performances to Seattle’s Taproot Theatre. She has the enthusiasm that comes with youth and optimism on her side, not unlike the character she plays.

“Penny Upstart is confident, perky, loves clothes and people,” Kennedy said. Her passion is contagious, Kennedy said, adding, “I don’t know if I have as nice clothes.”

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