Family Playtime At Kitsap Forest Theater

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we explore the magical Kitsap Forest Theater, its dedicated volunteers, and the passion that they bring to the stage.
Suzanne Gerber Suzanne Gerber
Former Creative Manager
July 27, 2019

Last spring, I saw The Wizard of Oz at the Kistsap Forest Theater. When the first notes of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” hit, I was floored at the depth and talent coming out of the young woman singing. Everyone in the show impressed me, but the person playing Dorothy was so young and yet so professional. Where did she get her training, I thought? Where did she get her confidence to be on stage in front of hundreds of people? I learned a lesson I’ve learned many times in The Mountaineers: never underestimate the skill and dedication of volunteers. Yes, the Kitsap Forest Theater is run entirely by volunteers and is a part of The Mountaineers.

A partnership between mountaineers and thespians is not as unusual as the modern-day adventurer may think. Before there were forest service roads and trails that took climbers right to the top of peaks, groups of ambitious mountaineers would scramble their way through miles of underbrush and navigate untouched forests. Trips like these would take days and weeks to go to some of the same places that now just take hours. In the evenings, Mountaineers would entertain each other by sharing stories by the fireside, sometimes acting them out through humorous and informal plays.

Outdoor plays like these became more formal over the years as passionate participants formed the Mountaineers Players, opening up productions to the public in 1923 on an area of the Kitsap Peninsula that is now known as the Kitsap Forest Theater, a property owned by The Mountaineers and surrounded by a 460-acre Rhododendron Preserve. The tiered seats and stage were constructed in 1926 making it one of the oldest outdoor theaters in the United States. It has run performances every year since it was built, except for three years during World War II. There’s also a cabin on the property where theater participants enjoy group meals when they camp out during weekend shows. Women volunteers, along with a few men who had not gone off to war, built the cabin in 1918 — during WWI.

Theater tradition continues today with a new play every spring and summer. It’s family friendly – not just for the audience, but many of those who participate in the productions are second or third generation Mountaineers Players. That young woman who played Dorothy from last spring’s production of The Wizard of Oz is Jasmine Harrick. She’s 14 now and enters High School in the fall. Her little sister, Eliana, age 12, was also in the play as the Munchkin Coroner, along with her dad, Tod who played the Tin Man. Jasmine’s first play with Kitsap Forest Theater was Fiddler on the Roof in 2012, when she was eight. Everyone in the family was in the play that first show, including her mom.

Jasmine plays Mary in The Secret Garden, Summer 2013. Photo by Deb Harrick.

Kitsap Forest Theater isn’t the only place Jasmine has learned theater skills. Her mom, Deb, explains, “She was doing some student theater and really starting to enjoy it — so when we saw that Kitsap Forest Theater was doing Fiddler on the Roof for their 2012 spring show, Jas asked to audition. I called and asked if there were any roles for kids, and somehow hung up the phone with auditions scheduled for all four of us!”

Jasmine and her sister Eliana are homeschooled and their parents say theater really enhances their learning process. Jasmine had her first lead role with the Kitsap Forest Theater the summer of 2013, as Mary in The Secret Garden. The summer after that, she was the lead again, as little orphan Annie in the play, Annie — shared on alternating nights with another young actress, Sophie Walters. She doesn’t do it alone though. Acting has always been a family affair for the Harricks and every Kitsap Forest Theater play has included at least one other family member. It’s been a great way for them to bond and get to know one another outside of traditional family roles — where everyone is learning something, taking risks, and discovering themselves.

“As a parent,” Tod says, “you can teach your kids to do things and you can watch your kids learn things, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities to learn right alongside with your kids.” Kitsap Forest Theater has given them that opportunity. Jasmine’s parents say it puts them on an even playing field with their kids. “Being involved in theater makes you more aware of yourself, your emotions, and who you are,” says Tod. It’s particularly special when theater takes place outdoors, where a person can connect with himself or herself through nature.

THE HARRICK FAMILY: DEB, ELIANA, JASMINE, AND TOD AT THEIR FIRST KITSAP THEATER SHOW - BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, SPRING 2008. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEB HARRICK.

An outdoor theater has it’s own set of challenges. There’s no cover for rain or to support stage lighting. But the show must go on, rain or shine, and that’s part of what makes it so magical. Sometimes the light hits the stage at just the right spot, or it starts to rain during a somber scene. Jasmine reflects upon the spring 2013 show of Narnia, where she played Lucy. “During one performance, it just kept raining and raining and by the end of the show, all of us were drenched in thick layers of mud.” This particular show involves fight scenes where the actors are falling and rolling around on the muddy ground. But the show must go on. The theater can fit up to 800 people and the audiences that show up when weather is iffy are that much more enthusiastic and appreciative of the actors doing the same. 

During shows and rehearsals, many performers and their families have fun glamping out at the Kitsap Forest Theater property. “It’s all part of the experience,” the Harrick family says. Most of the actors are from Seattle — across the water, and it saves a ferry ride and time to stay the weekend. There’s a kitchen in the cabin, and a volunteer chef to make meals for those who stay. There are plenty of places to play or find peace and quiet for those who do. The property is surrounded by a 460-acre Rhododendron preserve, there’s a salmon run that goes through, and a newly constructed tree house playground for the kids – not to mention the well-trod trail that leads to the iconic “Big Tree.” Deb says that sometimes they can go a whole afternoon without seeing Jasmine and Eliana, but they know they’re safe. Staying at the property teaches the kids responsibility too, Tod says. Everyone who stays at there for the weekend is assigned a task – some sort of clean up before heading home. It’s a similar volunteer-run set up as other Mountaineers’ properties: Meany Lodge, Baker Lodge, and Stevens Lodge.

As Jasmine continues to find her place in the world of performance, she’s discovered she identifies most with dance. "I am a dancer," she says with confidence. Homeschooling up to this point has really given Jasmine the chance to grow into herself and learn at her own pace while bonding with her family — especially her little sister. She enters high school in the fall and is excited about the changes it will bring, but there's one thing that won't change: her love — and involvement — in theater.


To learn more about the Kitsap Forest Theater and find upcoming shows, visit foresttheater.com.


This article originally appeared in our Summer 2018 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.