WICA provides cool entertainment for hot summer nights

— Created June 29, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Anyone in search of a cool night of entertainment in the coming weeks need look no further than Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. WICA’s Summer Nights Series, sponsored by Whidbey Telecom, officially begins Friday when the Hot Club of Troy takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. A variety of performances, festivals and activities will continue through Aug. 20.

The series, which began three months into the COVID shutdowns in 2020, was meant to bring people together for a hybrid “food and entertainment” option during those early days of the pandemic. A tent was purchased and placed outside Zech Hall, to accommodate outdoor programming. Organizers soon discovered WICA was filling a heretofore unforeseen niche in entertainment programming.

“For years, WICA had been dark, i.e., no programming in the summer, thinking that people did not want to come inside,” shared Deana Duncan, WICA’s executive artistic director. “This new outdoor space was literally a game-changer for our organization, fundamentally changing how and when we program. Local artists were eager to have a place to perform and patrons walked up the Cascade Corridor from downtown and we realized early this was going to work.”

The Summer Nights Series has evolved over the past three years, and this year will feature free entertainment and happy hour outside before headlining entertainment inside on the main stage.

“We’ve added happy hour outside in the tents on Friday and Saturdays from 5-7 p.m., moving the headliner act back inside to better support the tech needs and guarantee quality of sound and light as well as the ability to seat more people,” explained Duncan. “And this is the second year of the hugely popular Wednesday Night Bluegrass Jams, allowing an open-air jam space for bluegrass artists and audiences.”

Duncan said any fears of not being able to find performers to sustain the series quickly disappeared.

“We are blessed on Whidbey Island with an amazing variety of world-class talent in all genres,” she said. “[This year] we are also bringing in a Seattle favorite, Walt Wagner, who has not been here since COVID, and off-island talent like Tillers Folly, film director Holly Morris, playwright Amy Wheeler, an expanded Whidbey Island Guitar Festival led by Andre Ferianti, and amazing collaborations with Saratoga Orchestra, Whidbey Island Music Festival, and Hedgebrook Women Writers Retreat.

“Artists have loved playing Summer Nights,” continued Duncan. “Both the happy hour outdoor groups and the mainstage headliners. We definitely have our favorites we ask back every year and there is no shortage of those who want to play the series.”

With the added ability to use the main stage this season comes a broader variety of programming. For instance, filmmaker Holly Morris was at WICA earlier this week for a screening of her film, “The Babushkas of Chernobyl.” Local playwright Amy Wheeler will bring her new project, based on this film, to WICA July 17. The organization will also host the Hedgebrook Women Writers Retreat’s inaugural screenwriters conference in August.  WICA has hosted the Hedgebrook Playwrights Festival in conjunction with ACT Theater in Seattle for two decades, which Duncan said is proof of the power of working together.

“These types of community collaborations are at the heart of WICA’s new focus on Art First,” she said. “There is a saying that ‘art changes lives.’ But it’s so much deeper than that. From the bottom of my heart, I believe that art MAKES a life. It shines a light on our humanity and at its best, art asks huge and hard questions. WICA is dedicated to centering our work on this dialogue with our stakeholders, our community, our artists and patrons.”

Duncan said WICA is also pleased to bring back the WICA Conservatory, which features professional-level film and theater education for youth. There are two camps this year – the film production camp from July 5-10 and the theater camp from Aug. 1-12. Openings for both are still available for youth ages 15-20.

Organizers encourage anyone interested in tickets to any of this summer’s offerings to act quickly. Outdoor events are free, including happy hours and bluegrass jams. Tickets for indoor concerts vary in price. The outdoor venue comfortably seats 60 to 80 people, while indoor seating is still at half capacity (136 seats). Dates, descriptions, tickets and details on youth camps are all available online at wicaonline.org.