Whidbey Repertory Festival is unique collaboration

— Created March 6, 2024 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Two of Whidbey Island’s biggest forces in theater have joined together for a second year to present a truly groundbreaking event.

The 2nd annual Whidbey Repertory Festival begins tonight at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley and will continue through this weekend and next with a mix of performances and shows. Times and shows vary from day to day, so go to wicaonline.org for details and tickets.

A joint effort of WICA and the Island Shakespeare Festival, the Whidbey Repertory Festival (WRF) is a unique collaboration which allows each organization the opportunity to stretch their programming boundaries.

“We’re grateful and proud to partner with WICA for this project,” said Olena Hodges, ISF executive artistic director. “We get to bring some of the best parts of both organizations together, and work together to deepen our community connections. It’s a very important partnership and one I hope continues to grow.”

“ISF and WICA had talked for years about collaboration, but it took a pandemic and some changes to strongly held beliefs to get us both to the table with open minds and hearts,” said WICA Executive Artistic Director Deana Duncan. “Olena [Hodges] spotlights empathy and I fight for authentic heartfelt stories…together that is a powerful mission for our little festival. Together we can keep momentum for this partnership; given the space, time, and money to dream.”

Michael Brosilow Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Repertory Festival
“Gender Play” is one of the shows featured at the 2nd annual Whidbey Repertory Festival, which starts tonight at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley and runs throughout this weekend and next. WRF is a collaboration between WICA and the Island Shakespeare Festival.

In true repertory fashion, there are multiple opportunities to see the various productions featured during the festival. While there is no overall theme, per se, most of the performances this year feature solo artists.

“This was the original idea from 2023 and we’ve held on to it,” said Duncan. “There is something starkly powerful about one voice cutting through to tell us a story.”

“Most of the performances are live,” Hodges described. “‘Fleabag’ is the only film event. ‘After the War Comes the Dishes,’ ‘Gender Play,’ and ‘The Miss American Dream Show’ are all solo performances, and there’s also a live book reading and talk-back. I’m excited for the unique, eclectic lineup of events.” 

Both Duncan and Hodges said the content for this year’s festival is edgy, something that will push audiences and perhaps expand their world view.

Richard Frishman Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Repertory Festival
The book “Ghosts of Segregation” by local artist and award winning photojournalist Richard Frishman is being featured as part of the Whidbey Repertory Festival, taking place this weekend and next at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

“When we met to discuss favorite artists and ideas, we realized we were both leaning into edgier pieces,” Duncan said. “I’m super excited to be bringing back Jennifer Rawlings, an award-winning filmmaker and comic who has traveled to war zones around the world and fiercely carries the stories of the women impacted. I’m also very excited to be showcasing a local artist – award winning photojournalist Richard Frishman – for a conversation and release of his newest book, ‘Ghosts of Segregation.’ Throughout a 35,000-mile journey around the United States, Richard photographed and documented the racism he witnessed. The book has just been released and the festival is our chance to hear from and speak directly with the artist.”

“I’m proud that WICA and ISF are using this festival to expand the limits of our programming and have put together a series of events that will entertain, enlighten, titillate, challenge, and inspire our community,” said Hodges. “I’m particularly excited to bring ‘Gender Play’ to our community. ISF funded the initial development of this piece, and we held a reading at ISF prior to the Chicago world premiere. It feels full circle to finally share a fully realized production with our community, who supported this project virtually during the pandemic and through its Chicago run.”

In partnership with National Theatre Live, the festival will also feature a screening of the R-rated film “Fleabag.” The one-woman show, written and performed by Phoebe Waller Bridge and directed by Vicky Jones, inspired the BBC television series “Fleabag.”

“This is a unique opportunity for audiences to experience stories they may not otherwise have any awareness of,” Hodges said. “Solo performance can be hard to program into a ‘regular’ season but is such a vibrant and expressive form of storytelling. I’m really excited that it’s become the key feature of the WRF. This festival is also important because it’s an opportunity for artistic risk-taking. Again, it can be hard to program some of the themes we’ll see during the festival, because as WICA and ISF continue our post-pandemic emergence, we have delicate budgets to remain aware of. That impacts some of our programmatic choices. WRF means we can test out some potentially edgier pieces and offer our audiences something new.”

Jennifer Rawlings Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Repertory Festival
Those attending the Whidbey Repertory Festival this weekend and next will have multiple opportunities to see filmmaker and comedian Jennifer Rawlings. Go to wicaonline.org for schedule and ticket information.

 “WRF is the only repertory festival in our region that I’m aware of,” Duncan shared. “But I think what’s extraordinary is that two completely different theatre companies are working together to create a combined festival. I’m not seeing that anywhere else in the country. This idea that sharing space, money, vision, artists, and audiences can help both organizations as well as the communities they serve is groundbreaking.

“The programming is sharp, edgy, funny, and raw,” she continued. “These aren’t artists you’re normally going to see. And by attending, you are showing support for artistic collaboration and shared resources. If you support either or both of these organizations outside of the festival, please show up to support them together! If you’re new to either organization, this is a great way to see a lot of varied work in a short amount of time!”

There is a pay-what-you-will component to each of the shows offered, so money will not be a barrier to attending, according to Duncan. Festival schedules, passes and single-event tickets are still available online at wicaonline.org and “bottomless” popcorn will be available by donation throughout the festival.