Virtual Gala kicks off WICA’s 25th season

— Created September 9, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The show – even in the midst of a pandemic – must go on, and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley will kick off its 25th anniversary season with its first-ever virtual fundraising gala.

The event, called Re-Ignite the Night, will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday and will feature a live virtual gala beginning at 6 p.m., hosted by improv artist Billy Tierney. It’s a new spin on an old classic, a new foray into how things are done in the midst of COVID-19.

“The gala will be streamed live and include videos inserted into the evening’s program,” explained WICA Executive Director Verna Everitt. “Improv artist Billy Tierney will guide us through the event and auctioneer Paul Stokes will be thanking viewers for donations.”

“We have never produced a virtual event that combines live and pre-recorded elements,” said Deana Duncan, WICA artistic director. “We are learning, growing, adapting and changing as fast as we can. And, it’s been a lot fun!”

A small group of supporters will join in the gala in person, beginning the evening outdoors and becoming part of the live event at 6 p.m. Actors Ada Faith-Feyma, Betsy Harvey and Jim Scullin, musician Nancy Nolan, designers David Gignac and Valerie Johnson will make appearances, as will outgoing and incoming WICA board chairs Robert Merry and Ken Pilcher. Staff members will also appear.

The annual gala typically includes a festive cocktail hour before the event. To get people in the mood for the virtual event this year, organizers are encouraging people to put together their own cocktail hours at 5 p.m., either with a small group as allowed by public health restrictions, or virtually. The point is for everyone to gather ahead of the live event to build up the anticipation and add to the fun. A list of suggestions for planning a pre-gala cocktail hour can be found online. (

 In the past, the gala has included a silent auction and the event has served as one of WICA’s main fundraisers for the year. Because of the pandemic, this year has proved to be a difficult one to navigate in many ways. The inability to put on productions or even continue its Summer Nights series because of public health restrictions has put a crimp in WICA’s ability to raise funds.

“This is indeed our largest fundraiser,” said Everitt. “As we lost the ability to earn income for a large portion of our previous season, it is crucial for us to meet or exceed our $325,000 fundraising goal.

 “Our galas historically included auction components that contributed to each year’s goal,” she continued. “This year, we are relying solely on our ‘Raise the Paddle’ [drive], a direct appeal to our community members asking for their support.”

Pandemic or no, WICA is also moving ahead with its 25th anniversary season, which was announced Sept. 1. Duncan said it should be a year full of interesting programming and packed with surprises of all sorts.

“At this time, we are unclear on which events will be in-person, streaming, or hybrid, but we are moving forward with a rich, diverse season,” she said. “We learned so much during our Summer Nights Series and determined that all of the protocols and procedures we created to comply with public health guidelines will translate beautifully to interior events this fall. This season’s audiences will also enjoy a wide array of shorter events, fewer (if any) intermissions, and a new food and beverage experience.”

WICA, long known for its topnotch production values, will translate that knowledge into an interesting virtual experience, meaning this year’s gala should be full of memorable moments and a few surprises, too.

“The last video of the evening features highlights from our 25 years of producing and presenting a remarkable body of work,” Everitt said.

“I think the biggest surprise will be the reveal of how we redesigned the theater,” said Duncan. “We’ll also be sharing some areas rarely seen by the public – the costume loft, the scene shop, and our revamped administrative offices.”

WICA has worked to become an integral part of the community over the years, according to Everitt. One that would be greatly missed were it not there.

“For 25 years, WICA has been akin to our town square – a place where people gather to share experiences, feed their souls with incredible works of art, and grow their education and literacy,” she said. “I always like to say, ‘Imagine Whidbey Island without WICA.'”

Yes, it’s been a tough year, said Duncan. But even from tough circumstances, some good can grow.

“We never thought we’d be closed for this length of time,” she said. “The silver lining in this period of darkness is that we have learned new ways to dream. Our focus now is on reinvention and finding new ways to share the work. Safety and experience are driving every innovation we explore. We are so fortunate that our artists, patrons, donors, volunteers, and staff have all stayed highly engaged and we are humbled to know that WICA has such deep support. All I have left to say is ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

Those who are unable to attend the live streaming event Saturday can watch a recording of the gala and/or make a contribution for one week at