(Theatre Lobby: Before and After | Photos courtesy of CTC)
Howard Huskey, executive director of the Cascades Theatrical Company (CTC), believes in community. In support of the Central Oregon community, he and his dedicated crew have been hard at work renovating the Cascade Theatre in downtown Bend. Huskey’s efforts started five years ago when, upon discussing the possibility of losing the theatre with some of its supporters, jokingly offered, “Well, why don’t I go down there and fix that for you all?” He recalls, “They just looked at me and said, ‘You don’t know anything about theatre!’” to which I replied, ‘But I do know about business.’” Much to Howard’s surprise, his bid for the position was successful, and the theatre looks absolutely incredible as a result!
Founded in 1978, the Cascades Theatrical Company, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, proudly boasts being the oldest and only volunteer-based community theatre in Central Oregon. With more than 300 productions over the last 43 years, however, comes the need for repair, and the rather drab theatre desperately needed a makeover. Huskey began his renovations at the front entrance, replacing the awning and siding and revitalizing the exterior with fresh paint. Upon stepping through the front door and into the lobby, visitors are greeted with what are arguably the most remarkable improvements to the theatre. What was once a primarily gray space has now been transformed into a colorful, welcoming area adorned with attractive photos from past performances and star-studded, blue carpet complete with the famous “red carpet” stripe that leads patrons to the show. Freshly painted walls, new lighting, two gorgeous gold and black stenciled accent walls and a German schmear brick finish behind the concession counters, these latter two of which are both by Julee Vadnaise, complete the lobby remodel. Many front-of-the-house renovations took place during the “COVID era,” as Howard refers to it, so, at the very least, the pandemic did offer some possibilities for renewal.
In the hallway leading to the theatre proper, guests are greeted by a handsome display case featuring headshots of various actors who performed there. Patrons will also be thankful for the upgraded bathrooms with refinished floors, new toilets and sinks and repurposed vanities. And yes, Huskey reports, the women’s restroom is lovelier than the men’s, especially with its elegant, new mural.
The stage and seating area also have undergone a complete renovation. The entire stage, in fact, was replaced so that it no longer squeaks and creaks like the old one did. A new “house hang” lighting system shines brilliantly upon the actors, and the 130 chairs for audience members were removed so the floor could be recarpeted. The chairs were then cleaned and firmly reinstalled so theatre-goers no longer rock to and fro as they engage with the performance. Luxurious, deep red velvet curtains, courtesy of Board President Christine Mehner’s friend James Allen, frame the stage and provide a professional presence for all to enjoy.
Speaking of Mehner, a multi-award-winning independent filmmaker with Master of Fine Arts degree in Motion Picture Production from UCLA, Howard shares that she has played a pivotal role in reshaping the theatre. “Her background is film and television, and she taught at Loyola Marymount University and California State University,” Howard states. He continues, “Chris helped me put together the theatre and film curriculum for the teen program and has enrolled over 140 students in our classes and productions since we started last year. We received multiple grants for our Cascades Teen Theatre so we can keep the classes free for now. We’re trying to keep it free for families who can’t afford it. It’s about giving back to the community.”
Also providing essential support in myriad ways are the Board Members: Gloria Hegidio, board vice president; Dave Doyle, treasurer; Janelle Musson, secretary; Cricket Daniel; and Michael Fullerman who has served on the CTC Board since 2014. “We’ve got a great crew here — the best I’ve ever had!” Huskey proudly states. The current, stellar state of the theatre is a vivid testimonial to the success of this crew!
With such a monumental and detailed overhaul of the entire Cascades Theatrical Company (and I certainly haven’t covered it all!), I felt compelled to ask Howard about his motivation to do so. “Years ago, my kids acted on this stage, and my wife at that time volunteered a lot here,” he tells me. “My passion is to provide young people and people in general with a safe spot to be who they want to be. You can take a person that is so shy and timid, and once you put them on the stage they bloom; it’s amazing how it works! There’s so many people that need their own outlet, and this is the place to do that,” Huskey concludes.
The day I toured the theatre was opening night for Theory of Relativity, one of two yearly productions by the Cascades Teen Theatre, a program started in 2019 that also features an annual Teen Theatre Showcase. This type of programming illustrates just one way CTC is reaching out to a wider community. Howard tells me. “We always did five to seven full-length theatrical plays a year, and it’s basically for adults. Our patrons are generally 50-80 year olds. I’m trying to balance that and give the younger generation an opportunity here. We are a community theatre and that means the whole community!” Turns out Theory of Relativity not only was attended by a diverse audience ranging from six to ninety years old, but was also so very well received that the audience bestowed upon it a standing ovation on preview night! Such an enthusiastic reception bodes well for a more inclusive community theatre per the vision of Huskey and the entire Cascades Theatrical Company crew!