In July of 1980, a handful of actors, known at the time as The Blue Heron Players, gave a performance of A Thousand Clowns at the Netarts Community Club in Tillamook County. It was a one-night-only show, but it sparked interest in a more permanent situation. The following week saw Dan Baumgartner, Becki Wilhelm, Ray Benites, Donna Warren, Pat Hawkins, and David Wiegan agree, after several hours of lively discussion, to form the Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts. TAPA, as it instantly became known, would sponsor and promote performance arts of all varieties.
Two other major decisions were made immediately. First, to form a corporation and apply for non-profit status, and second, to hold several fundraisers and promote the new organization. Ten days later, when TAPA was exactly one-and-a-half weeks old, the group held their first performance singing at the Tillamook County Fair. The show went well, and the group—billing itself as Four Way Street—performed a number of times during that first year, once as far away as Astoria.
Subsequently, a fundraiser in the Sacred Heart Parish Hall was scheduled, as well as the first full production, My Three Angels. It came off successfully in spite of starting with nothing—no costumes, equipment, or stage lights and virtually no funds! We borrowed from everyone. But the play generated further interest and support, and a full year’s schedule was prepared for the following year. A group of about eight gathered in Wiegan’s tiny home studio to record a one-take live radio version of A Christmas Carol. Sound effects were added later with items from around the house. It aired Christmas Eve on local radio station KTIL.
Two one-act comedies kicked off 1981, The Private Ear and The Public Eye. Next up were Barefoot in the Park, Hound of the Baskervilles, and a one-act version of The Gift of the Magi. Other plays followed, but the production of Godspell was the largest undertaking to-date. Early attendance was sparse and the cast used to bet quarters on how many people would come to each performance. The turning point was the night the cast heard “We need more chairs! We need more chairs!” as the hall filled up and people lined the walls. The play helped make TAPA’s reputation as it struck a chord with the people of Tillamook County. The show played to full and very appreciative houses at the local junior high school and even prompted a letter to the editor in the local newspaper afterward thanking and congratulating TAPA for the contribution to the arts in the community.
In the early years, TAPA performed wherever possible including larger musicals at the Don Whitney Auditorium, dinner theater at local restaurants such as Cedar Bay restaurant, comedies, dramas, variety shows, and musical revues above the Blue Heron French Cheese Co., as well as local businesses and facilities with space for a stage. In all, over sixty productions were performed thanks to the generosity of local support. However, the group knew from its inception that a permanent location would be needed at some point.
Due to the 22 years of continued support and enthusiasm, TAPA felt confident that the time was right to purchase a place of our own. In 2002, TAPA purchased the building that housed the Barn Tavern just off Highway 101 in Tillamook, which had been a local favorite spot for food, fun, and firewater. The building was not designed to function as a theater and countless volunteer hours were spent to convert the space to a theater. Although changes and updates have been made over the years to increase the space’s functionality as a theater, there were still major challenges to overcome.
An architect created a master plan remodel and a building fund was established with a projected budget of $200,000. Although some donations were made and money was set aside, the full remodel seemed unattainable. In 2011, the TAPA board voted to abandon the big remodel and to instead take on upgrade projects in phases to make necessary changes to benefit the audience.
The seating area had been composed of folding chairs with one half of the audience area all on the same level, thus views of the stage were limited. The uncomfortable chairs and limited views were mentioned by audience members show after show. Out of the blue, Lisa Kendall of the Middle Way Health Care Clinic in Tillamook offered to donate theater chairs and this kick-started the overhaul of the seating area that began in late July 2012.
Because revenue generated from productions provides the majority of TAPA’s funds, the remodel coincided with rehearsals for the fall production of A Fine Monster You Are! and the cast and crew toiled amidst the dust and debris. Once again relying on the extreme generosity and hard work of local volunteers (including the board of directors) and supporters, as well as some purchased materials and labor, TAPA premiered the newly remodeled seating area on opening night to a full house. The community once again came together for the sake of art, and the results were amazing. Every row of comfortable, cushioned theater seats is now on a different level and every seat in the house has a great view. To help fund this project and future improvement phases (adding handicapped accessible restrooms to the lobby area, upgrading lights and sound, insulating the building, etc.), patrons are being offered the opportunity to purchase and name a seat. This makes a great gift or tribute and a way to leave a legacy on the local theater scene. TAPA is eagerly looking forward to the next phase of improvements once funding is secured to continue.
Since purchasing the Barn Community Playhouse building, more than seventy productions have been performed there, along with acting classes and an annual week-long children’s acting workshop every summer. Due in large part to the remodel, TAPA is experiencing a renewed enthusiasm and has seen attendance, auditions, and volunteer numbers grow.
TAPA was created from the ground up with humble beginnings and due to continued support of local business sponsorship, volunteers and audience support we have full seasons of plays and musical revues often selling out. Every cent donated is deeply appreciated and is used with utmost respect.