"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Hey, let’s start a theater

By on August 24, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
From left: Full Circle Theatre Company founders David Harvill, Meg Kappler, Maren Cagle and Pete Kappler relax in the courtyard of the Numerica Performing Arts Center, where they recently staged The Tempest, the premier production of the PAC’s Twilight Theatre. Photo by Susan Lagsdin

By Susan Lagsdin

What’s in a name? 

When two local couples made the big leap in 2016 to start a new theater company, they christened it the Full Circle Theatre Company. It symbolizes a return for them, said Pete Kappler, to “everything that excited us about theater when we were young.”

All four (Pete and Meg Kappler and David Harvill and Maren Cagle) have university degrees in their craft. They act, they direct, and they have all spent hundreds of hours with both Leavenworth Summer Theater and Music Theatre of Wenatchee on set construction, lighting design and props.

Call it hobby, avocation or passion — they are theater folk of the highest order in an increasingly arts-rich community.

Why then, after they met on set and became close friends, did they feel the need to start fresh? 

It’s the age of start-ups, true, but generally in the tech world, not in the age-old art of drama.

They wanted autonomy: as their own board of directors, they choose the scripts and the season. They wanted flexibility: they can cast large or small, produce spare or lavish in any performance space they can find.

 And they wanted to depend only on themselves and their own combined talents. Pete put their declaration of independence simply. “We are the only ones we can let down.”

Rob Spradlin and Pete Kappler perform in Hound of the Baskervilles. Photo by Frank Cone

Yes, but… start a theater? How big a step is that? How to begin?

It’s not easy, but Meg explained they had one superb boost.

Three years ago, an early mentor suddenly offered Meg an irresistible gift: the legal transference of the 501c3 status that a defunct non-profit Whidbey Island theater company had enjoyed. “We never would have tried to start a nonprofit, with all the rules and waiting and paperwork. But here it was — it landed right in our laps. It’s hard now to imagine saying ‘No, thanks.’”

Maren remembers the Kapplers’ ostensibly casual visit to the Leavenworth set she and David were constructing. “They brought coffee and snacks… we should have been suspicious.” Did they want to start a theater? With no hesitation, the second couple said yes, and the show, so to speak, was on the road.

With small casts (mostly themselves) and rented space (thank you Riverside Playhouse, Radar Station), within three years of pooling their talents, Full Circle Theatre had produced readings and three short plays: The Dumb Waiter, The Turn of the Screw and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

They started with a small production on a small footprint and immediately received a big surprise — an outpouring of encouragement from local theaters, audiences and interested volunteers.  

Maren marveled at the positive reaction. “Everyone has been really helpful. Theater is essentially a collaborative art, and we are lucky to be in a true community of people who are constantly so supportive.” 

One thrilling affirmation came last winter. They had been encouraged to pitch Shakespeare’s The Tempest at Numerica PAC’s programming /funding forum, an annual, anxiety-producing “open audition” of productions. 

Pete remembers, “The first sponsor hand that went up was (Hot August Nights director) Jaime Donegan’s. We were so excited about the partnership… they even named it Twilight Theatre. A good sign.”

Full Circle staged The Tempest over two July weekends in the PAC’s lower courtyard off Wenatchee Avenue. They had simple backdrops, 17 actors and dancers (some Valley veterans, two new in town) professional choreography and specially commissioned music. Each night was sold out.

Their next show, scheduled for this November, is Obie Award-winning Circle Mirror Transformation, by Annie Baker, which the New York Times called “absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny.” 

As with each script they choose, it has the full approval of each of them. For these four, working together as a theater company is consciously conflict-free, with major decisions discussed honestly and often. After all, these are business partners who hang out together on the weekends. Meg reiterates “Friendship first, always.” 

“We choose plays we all like,” Pete said. “What would we like to see? Maybe they’re strange or interesting, not on other groups’ short lists. We know what works best for us.”  

Though now they are a theater “company” and not a physical building, they envision in the future a single physical home for production, education and collaboration with other groups.

Pete Kappler and Maren Cagle do a scene in Turn of the Screw. Photo by Frank Cone

Their realistic, close-up goal? Pete said, “All we need to do is not lose money. It’s that simple.”  

It’s working. The seats fill up; not only do they cover their expenses with ticket sales, but, untypical of community theaters, they offer modest stipends to the after-hours actors and craftspeople who augment their productions.

But to start a theater? And somehow support six people? Gas, food, lodging, lattes… gotta pay the bills, and the Kapplers have two young sons.

Don’t worry; the Full Circle Theatre founders do have pretty good day jobs. 

Pete is a travel trainer for Link Transit, Meg administers Behavioral Health at Columbia Valley Health, David, tested in many trades, teaches STEM classes at Cascade High School and Maren is director of Upper Valley Connections and manages federal monies for the Cascade School District.

The rest of their life is almost all theater, all the time. Just the way it was when they were young and adventuresome, when they trusted themselves and were willing to take risks.

They’ve come full circle. That’s what’s in a name.

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