The History of Theater Arts Guild – 2017 Interview on Skagit Talks radio show

Skagit Talk interview 2017

In August 2017, Robyn Candeleria from the Skagit Talks radio program interviewed Harold Page and Bruce Vilders about the history of the Theater Arts Guild in Mount Vernon, WA. TAG is a community theater non-profit that serves Skagit County, WA and neighboring counties. Learn more about TAG on their website at https://theaterartsguild.org/

Listen to interview:

 

Robyn Candeleria
This is Robyn Candeleria for Skagit Talks. Today in the studio I’ve invited some people from the Theater Arts Guild of Mount Vernon, WA. We have Harold Page. He’s been a board member and vice-president of the board for about 25 years and he is the guy with lots of information so it will be really fun to talk to him today.

And also we have have Bruce Vilders, he’s the non-titled man but yet he’s the founder, was the first president, and board member for fifteen years. So welcome gentlemen.

HAROLD PAGE and BRUCE VILDERS
Thank you.

Harold Page
Bruce Vilders

RC
It’s really exciting to have you here. I’ll just say that I’m in your present production and it’s a lot of fun and it’s really exciting, but I think today I’d like to hear you guys tell a little about the history of TAG. Let’s start with Harold. Tell me a little bit about the history of TAG, mainly how did this all start and why did this all start?

HAROLD PAGE
I was sitting at the coffee corner one morning having breakfast and Bruce came in and asked me if I wouldn’t like to be in a play he was trying to organize for kids. And I told him that I was kind of busy and I wouldn’t be interested in doing that and he said that if I did it he would buy me breakfast.

So I went and auditioned. The play was The Hobbit, that was 1992 and that was our first production. We had no idea at that time we were founding a theater group. We were just putting on a play that would have a lot of kids in it.

Our first Bilbo Baggins was Ross Mathews, who’s of course gone on to some fame, and many of the people that were in that very first play are still doing plays with TAG. But as far as the germ of the idea of how TAG got started, you’d have to ask Bruce, because it was really his creation.

BRUCE VILDERS
Did I ever buy you that breakfast?

HP
No, I’m sure you didn’t.

BV
Darn.

RC
Oh, well there’s still time for that.

BV
I shouldn’t have asked that question.

RC
You walked right into it.

BV
Well, Robyn, you said you’re in the current production and the current production is the 25th Anniversary production, the Silver Anniversary of TAG, so we’ve been around for twenty-five years. Going back to the story that Harold just told, I can’t believe it has been twenty-five years, but it has. Where this all started is that I used to work for the Northwest Educational Service District 189 here in Mount Vernon, WA. That office has since moved to Anacortes, WA. I was the consultant for the gifted and talented programs and arts programs and when I first took that job in 1989 we were serving 35 school districts; Five counties, thirty-five school districts.

My job was to try to raise interest and promote programs for the gifted and talented population, that would be the academically gifted and the artistically talented. And here in my own home town where I landed, Mount Vernon, there was no theater going on for children. There was a program up in in Sedro-Woolley, but that was for adults. And so I thought that was something that we could start here in Skagit Valley was theater for children. And since I was always a Tolkien fan, the first one that came to mind was The Hobbit. And indeed when we started looking around and we started asking if people would be interested in doing that, people came out of the woodwork.

RC
Oh yeah, I’ll bet.

BV
Not only because the play we wanted to do, The Hobbit, was interesting to a lot of folk, but there was very little going on in the arts for young people.

RC
Right, bringing theater activity is exciting.

BV
Right, and a lot of the school districts were doing away with their arts programs. Money was tight. Schools were being built without stages. And so we thought that this might be a niche that we could fill, and indeed I think we helped.

RC
I think you called that one right spot-on.

BV
So here we are twenty-five years later and done a lot of different programming and a lot of different shows. Although we started out with children’s theater, Harold and I, in all of our years talking back and forth realized that not only do children need a place to do their thing dramatically, singing, dancing, but we as adults wanted to have a place to play as well. So we started talking about allowing children to have those opportunities and to let adults be involved as well. So the children reminded us how fun it was to play, and the adults who maybe had some experience taught the kids how to be on stage.

HP
And if I might interrupt, one of the things that became really apparent, it’s actually kind of surprising, is that when you put kids and adults in a situation where they’re kind of equals, if you’re in a cast everybody is important, and kind of equally important, the self-esteem that the kids derive from that, and also their sort of growth in terms of sense of responsibility…

Kids don’t miss entrances, adults do, but kids will always get their entrances exactly right. There was some dynamic that went with having adults and kids as co-equals in casts that just seemed to make the kids flourish.

BV
I would agree with that.

RC
Neat. So it started with you two,  but then how did you bring in this wide group of volunteers that you have now that makes the big production possible. You wouldn’t have been able to do it all just the two of you. The idea springs from you two, but then how do you draw other people in. How do you make it all happen, the magic?

BV
Well, the way it happened was that as we started to talk about it, and as we started to advertise about it, we found more and more people interested and a lot of those folks that were on that first board of directors for TAG, the Theater Arts Guild, were the mothers and the fathers and they saw that this was something that they wanted their children involved with. So it was a lot of those types of folks… Because once we did the first play, the first play was actually subsidized by the Northwest Educational Service District. They actually helped fund that. And then there came a time when they said, “You know, this looks like a good idea Bruce, but we can’t continue to do this. There’s too many facets to this, there’s too much money going out the door. It’s a great idea but we can’t continue to do that. Let them go off on their own.” So we took it on ourselves to create a non-profit. We put together a board and we had great folks on that first board, and the second board and the third board. And like you said in your introduction, Harold’s been on the board for all those years. And we have some other people too. Jane Skinner who is the current director of the 25th Silver Anniversary extravaganza.

RC
And we’ll be talking to her a little bit soon about that event.

BV
Right. So bringing volunteers together. People that are like-minded and have that goal of providing something for the community. And that’s the other thing where we got a lot of our folks is that people who were in our audiences came to see shows. And we’ve heard the story over and over again, they sit there and they go “I want to be involved in this. This looks like fun.”

RC
And it is.

BV
It is fun.

HP
In fact, the very first board of directors retreat that we had, and this would have been around 1995, we sat down and we talked about what some of the values of our organization would be and one of our number one rules is that it has to be fun. If it’s not fun then we’re not doing it right. We’re not feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, we’re doing community theater, and it just has to be fun. And we’ve pretty much adhered to that and it’s been successful for us.

Another thing I’d like to point out, kind of hooking onto what Bruce was saying, a kind of a fun story, and we’ve seen it time and time again, when we have auditions, kids will come to auditions and frequently they’ll be very nervous and a little stressed-out about it, so they’ll bring a parent. The parents come and then we see this little transaction taking place between parent and child where the parent says “Okay, well how about if I get up and audition too”. And then invariably the parent gets cast along with the child and by the end of that play, that parent is a member of our board and an enthusiast. You know, the kid might do one play and go another direction but the parent is usually with us all the way through. One of whom I remember quite clearly is Ron Wohl who came to audition with his daughter and a few years later he founded Skagit Opera. But you know, people just discover that some of those long-buried talents and interests that they have from doing plays in high school or college or whenever, they come back out and they really enjoy it.

RC
Right, and that’s what caused me to show up. I thought, I have so many years of experience doing similar things and why just let it go when there’s this opportunity to get together with like-minded people and have some fun. And that’s what it was about for me, was to have some fun and, you know, keep going.

BV
And meet other people, I suspect, that have similar interests like your own.

RC
Right. And so my next question, we have just a few minutes left, I’m curious, how did you pick what you were going to produce? Each year, you’ve got twenty-five years that you’ve been doing this, how did you pick just one each year?

BV
At the beginning, I was the one that was probably promoting what plays I wanted to do, and because I was a child of the 1950’s, I grew up with Disney. And so that’s why you will see, as well as some other iconic movies like The Wizard of Oz, that had a huge impact on me as a young person. And so I felt very comfortable in, “Well let’s do Pinnochio, let’s do Alladin.” That was how it started, but as we morphed into a larger group and more people got involved, they had their favorites. Harold?

HP
Yeah, We had some of those kids that were in our first plays were becoming teenagers. They were interested in doing different things like Grease and Footloose, some of those kinds of plays which was fun. So it’s very much sort of a community effort to decide what to do. It also has a lot to do with what’s available to do. For example, one of the plays that we’re looking at now which we’re hoping will be available soon, it’s not yet, is Mamma Mia. And when that becomes available for production by community theater groups then we’ll see if we can’t do that.

RC
That sounds like fun.

BV
And a good example of that is what comes available as we’re doing Beauty and the Beast, and it’s the first time that TAG, the Theater Arts Guild, and Skagit Valley College are coming together to do a combined play at McIntyre Hall. Beauty and the Beast is a big one, and we’ve gone from the very beginnings in 1992 where a budget might be five hundred dollars, to now we are seeing budgets of over a hundred thousand dollars.

RC
Oh that’s exciting.

BV
It really is.

RC
Thank you so much for meeting with me today. I want to take just a minute to mention that 25th Anniversary celebration. There are tickets available the Lincoln Theatre for the 31st of August, 2017 and they are going fast, so if you would like to see what TAG does and feel that excitement for yourself, get yourself a ticket and join us on the 31st  (2017). So again, thank you for joining me in the studio and sharing about TAG today.

HP
Thank you for having us today.

BV
Thanks Robyn.

RC
This has been Robyn Candeleria for Skagit Talks.

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