Actors Jillyn Chang (left) plays Mills, and Mike Swanson (right) plays Tuck in the Verona Studio Production of “Lonesome Hollow / photo Michael Swanson

The Salem area abounds with live performance. Since Salem Repertory Theatre—Salem’s first and only professional theater company—closed its doors at the end of 2009, no less than four new companies have taken root. On any particular weekend, Salem features three to four performances of plays and musicals, plus improv comedy, touring shows, dinner theater, workshops and special events. One would have to go out two to three nights a week to see each production.

Salem theater can be roughly divided into three categories: mainstays, burgeoning companies and theater for young audiences.

Local performance is dominated by Pentacle Theatre, founded in 1954. Pentacle tends to produce family-friendly and crowd pleasing fare, such as the upcoming Legally Blonde: The Musical, although it occasionally strays into more uncomfortable territory, such as last season’s The Laramie Project (also one of the strongest productions of the season).

Willamette University produces consistently high quality work, such as last year’s Death of a Salesman, which featured stunning performances from professional actors and students alike.However, because the department naturally focuses on the university audience, it is sometimes difficult to find a seat.

Rounding out the list of mainstays is the historic Elsinore Theatre which hosts touring productions, standup comedy, and one-man shows.

Of the new companies, Capitol City Theater leads the pack. Residing on the second floor of the Reed Opera House, it is home to Salem’s only improv comedy team, with performances every Friday and Saturday night. It frequently offers tie-ins with other downtown businesses and hosts eclectic events, such as the summer couch races.

Keizer Homegrown Theatre produced its first two shows in 2012, including an outdoor Macbeth at Keizer Rapids Park. The company looks to add productions in coming years until it can offer five to six shows annually.
Theater Outreach is dedicated exclusively to family-friendly productions, especially adaptations of well-known children’s literature, and has recently branched into dinner theatre.

Salem Playback Theatre will be offering its first public performance in March. Drawing upon ancient forms of ritual storytelling, performers, will reenact personal stories told by audience members. This unique form of non-scripted theatre is a catalyst for both empowerment and community-building.

In addition to these standing companies, Chemeketa Community College students formed the Theater by Storm club as a response to the college cancelling its theater program in 2011. Look for a production this April. Also watch for the first show from the newly minted Verona Studios, a production of Lee Blessing’s Lonely Hollow in February (see story next page).

Even more opportunities abound for young actors. Salem Keizer Inspirational Teen Theatre, or S.K.I.T., offers workshops and an annual production for local teens. Children’s Educational Theatre (CET) provides five weeks of theater “camp” in the summer months. The Children’s Theatre Foundation offers grants and special workshops, and most area high schools produce at least two shows a year.

Within half an hour’s drive, theater-goers can attend shows at Brush Creek Playhouse in Silverton, Aumsville Community Theatre, Albany Civic Theater, and Western Oregon University in Monmouth.

A collective performance and audition calendar can be found on the Salem Theatre Network on Facebook, a virtual call board and green room for the theatre community in and around Salem.

Live performance, with its ability to gather diverse audiences within a sacred space and link them with a collective experience, is not only abundant in the Salem area, but is one of the key threads that ties the community together.

This story is part of a series in partnership between Salem Art Association and Salem Weekly.  Its purpose is to address a need for more critical and analytical discussions about the arts in and around Salem, and to provide a much needed resource for artists about local opportunities and events.