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

Nita Paine

By on February 22, 2021 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
Riverside Playhouse, which houses Music Theatre of Wenatchee, is familiar territory to Nita Paine, who’s been connected to the group both on and off stage for most years since 1978.

‘I love that we provide an outlet to people to express themselves, to find out who they are’

By Susan Lagsdin

The thousands of people-hours needed to create community theater productions in our region are gladly donated by hundreds of volunteers. 

Generally, they’re unpaid but professional, in the spotlight but often humble, ambitious but content to stay here.

This story highlights just one of the many: Nita Paine, the chair of the board of trustees of Music Theatre of Wenatchee.

First, go back in time a year or so, pre-pandemic: picture an evening at the Riverside Playhouse. You sip a glass of wine in the lobby, scan again the photos of past plays, then find your place in the chatty, semi-lit theater and peruse your program. You may ooh and ahh at the waiting sets.

At an invisible signal, the house darkens and conversation stops. Perhaps an orchestra plays the show’s overture. Two actors slip quietly onto stage, a spotlight haloes them and the world changes. A playwright’s words become a suspended reality.

That moment is what theater lovers love most. And in our own downtown, repeated dozens of times a year, that moment has been happening for Music Theatre of Wenatchee (MTOW) since 1961. It’s supposed to look and feel like magic for the audience. But it’s work, and as are so many arts enterprises, it’s a labor of love.

Nita was at first reluctant to do this interview. “I’m not really an artist,” she demurred, “And there are people who know a lot more about this theater than I do.”

Well, possibly. But because she has been instrumental, active and involved in MTOW’s continuous success for over four decades, it seemed like a good bet.

“I look back at all the years I’ve been coming down to the theater and it’s flabbergasting,” she said. She’s in awe of her past mentors from years ago from the legendary Keith Sexson and up to Don Fox, and current compatriots like Cynthia Brown, the Maussers and the Atwoods (and — sorry — dozens of others you’d see repeatedly on your play program) who seem to dedicate their whole lives to theater. “I could never give it that kind of energy…” 

Au contraire. She’s given her energy and more to the group as actor, singer, dancer, light hanger, stagehand, concessionaire, odd-job volunteer and often board member. 

The two jobs Nita finds really daunting she’s adroitly managed to stay clear of: directing and producing. (One homemade definition of those is the director works with actors on the stage and the producer makes everything else happen; she visibly shuddered at the responsibility involved.)

Any other role, large or small, she’ll take. Her first time on the MTOW stage she played the mother-in-law in 1978’s Pippin, which she remembered at the time as being risqué and risky. It was “way too much fun,” she said. And she was hooked.

Nita later played Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, then took smaller parts in musicals like Oklahoma, Annie and A Chorus Line. Her last singing and dancing role was 2009’s Steppin’ Out

She said the only precedent for her community theater life, which started in earnest here in Wenatchee after college, marriage and the Peace Corps, was playing Mrs. Paroo in her Seattle high school’s production of The Music Man.

Her teaching career with Eastmont schools and raising a family kept her close to town during most of the theater’s September-May busiest seasons. Now in retirement, unless she’s traveling with her husband Bob, she’s still helping in some way to put a show on the boards.

Nita was proud to point out this is the 60th anniversary of MTOW. Its inception was a tiny black-box space in a repurposed garage on Benton Street. By 1991, with the purchase of Riverside Playhouse, the annual production calendar had grown; it now includes two dramas and a musical, as well as Short Shakespeareans and occasional summer shows. 

MTOW’s popular Apple Blossom musicals, sold-out blockbusters that some would expect only in bigger communities, used the Wenatchee High School and later the Performing Arts Center stage (Annie in 2001 was the first of that long-standing joint venture, Newsies in 2019 its latest.) but though the seating space is smaller, Riverside Playhouse can still host quality musical productions.

Nita, in her latest starring role as Board chair, has been handling two big challenges recently. 

The first, of course, is the pandemic. 

The 2020 Apple Blossom musical, Mamma Mia, was cast and accounted for when the director wisely closed the curtain on it a year ago. The theater went dark for 2020 and remains so into the new year. 

In Zoom board meetings, creative suggestions for a possible virus-free fall abound, Nita said. Among other ideas, “There’s talk of a special reward for members, an ‘Apple Harvest’ musical, maybe a Halloween event.” 

The second challenge is geographical. Riverside Playhouse is situated at the southern edge of a tract of buildings and parking lots owned by the Chelan P.U.D, which is relocating its operations to Olds Station. As the acreage faces sale and development, MTOW needs to consider continued access and parking, perhaps expansion for the playhouse. 

Fruitful discussion is ongoing, and Nita and the MTOW board — creative problem solvers — feel positive that after 60 years of inevitable ups and downs and changes, “the show will go on.”

It has great incentive to do so. Nita said, “I love that we provide an outlet to people to express themselves, to find out who they are. 

“And that we produce plays for some people who might never see them, or even see theater, anywhere else but here.”

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