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Good things, small Box
POULSBO — The curtains are drawn, lights dimmed, and an eager audience leans forward. Humphrey Bogart takes the blue-lit stage, one eye cast in the shadow of his fedora, a cigarette dangling between two fingers like it’ll burn from here to Casablanca and back. It’s a Friday evening, opening night, and there’s whimsy in the air.
“Move closer,” Bogie says.
“How close?” asks befuddled Allan, his arm around Linda, the object of his affection.
“The length of your lips,” he answers.
“That’s very close.”
Bogie is, of course, Charlie Wise in actuality; Allan is otherwise known as Ashley Hurd. The players are putting on Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam,” keeping a nearly packed house in stitches for the better part of an hour and a half.
This is a night at the Jewel Box Theater, Poulsbo’s nonprofit community playhouse, which is heading into its eighth season with a “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” kind of charm.
“Live theater is just special. I believe a lot of people feel that way about it,” said Jewel Box artistic director Laurel Watt. “It adds to the artistic and cultural growth of a community.”
As community resources wane in light of a downtrodden economy — the North Kitsap Community Pool faces possible closure and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center struggles to stay afloat — the Jewel Box is working to keep its marquee lit. Commemorative bricks are currently for sale at $500 a piece.
Brick chairman Jacquie Svidran said the all-volunteer operation depends on community generosity: “It’s the only way we go,” she said.
The theater has its share of expenses with a heavy mortgage and royalties coming in at $1,800 to $3,000 per show. Svidran, 81, said in part it has been the at-random donations of unsung community heroes that have kept the doors open, with contributions ranging from $5 to $500.
But with a stalled economy Watt said now is a time audiences are encouraged more than ever to give the Jewel Box a visit. It’s a mere walk away from some Poulsbo neighborhoods, and only a trot from the downtown dining core. With no ferry fares and reasonable ticket prices, Watt said the little black-box theater at the corner of Jensen Way and Iverson Street can be just the perfect night out, complete with a good time and a few laughs. Many, she said, are concerned at paying for tickets; in reality it’s little more than the cost of a movie.
“We’ve done well. We do have a loyal audience, but we often have empty seats,” said Watt. Her goal is to see patrons fill at least three quarters of the 99 seats for every show’s overall run. “We think that if we could get them in the habit of going, that they’d come back.”
She said the theater’s board is looking into grant funding options, and sells commemorative seats and season ticket packages that save money for theater lovers.
The Jewel Box also serves as a gathering place for area clubs and organizations. Watts said special showings and lobby parties can be arranged.
Heading into her third season as artistic director, she’s looking to bring back some classic favorites to the Jewel Box line-up: along with “Play It Again, Sam,” this season will see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Also among the upcoming are “Pack of Lies” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”
She’s even looking to increase the Jewel Box’s directorial and thespian pool by extending opportunities to theater members in nearby communities.
“I’m excited about that, and we have a pretty good response,” she said. “New blood is a good thing, and it’ll improve our audience, bring more people in to see the shows.”
Also on her radar are possible opportunities for youth performances.
“I’d just like to see how far we can take the Jewel Box,” she said.
And Svidran is quick to remind that the theater isn’t just one that takes: Jewel Box players perform free community Christmas shows each year — shows that can only continue with community support.
Svidran, called nothing less than “an angel” by Jewel Box staff, said it was Babs herself in “Hello, Dolly!” who put it like it is, and it’s a speech she repeats to those considering a donation.
“Money, pardon the expression, is like manure,” Dolly says. “It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”
To purchase a Jewel Box brick or tickets, call (360) 779-9688.
Play It Again, Sam
Now playing - Oct. 12
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets at the door: $14 regular, $12 seniors, students, military.