Mountaineer Players and the Kitsap Forest Theater
A prominent activity among early Mountaineer visitors involved dramatic diversions. Skits, pantomimes, kangaroo-courts, and mock-weddings were performed using props and costumes at hand. The first theatrical effort that had any continuity was a pantomime staging of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1916. The headless horseman rode on a bright, moonlit Halloween night. The actors wore sheets and rode sticks with carved horses heads. The skits and performances grew into a released production of Robin of Sherwood on June 17, 1923, featuring a cast of Mountaineers (right).
The early shows were staged in several clearings on the property. The audience moved from clearing to clearing as different scenes were presented. The performance marked the birth of the Mountaineer Players who would produce an annual show on the property every year to the present day. The only exception being 4 years during World War II.
The increasing size of the audience and the relatively uncomfortable accommodations (standing in a moist bog while swatting mosquitoes) spurred the movement to build a permanent theater facility. William C. Darling and the Players business manager, Claire McGuire, scouted the site for the Forest Theater. The site was a level spot with a gentle upward slope near Chico Creek.
Following William C Darling's hand drawn theater design, (left, circa 1925) the Mountaineers felled trees, carved terraced seats in the hillside and lugged cedar bark from the creek bottom under Mr. Darling's direction.
The original design of the theater attempted to recreate a natural occurring glade in the forest. Trees were thinned to allow streams of light to fall on the stage while keeping the audience shaded. Wings were constructed out of cedar bark covered with moss. Modernizations such as running water, electricity, and several buildings for storage and dressing have been added but the original design and concept remain the same. A lush row of fern footlights, bark covered wing walls with living moss and rhododendrons and dogwoods filling the back drop accent the "only real forest theater in the United States". The Forest Theater remains faithful to it's original design.
The Mountaineer Players are one of the oldest, continuously operating community theater groups in the country, performing in the one of the oldest outdoor theaters in North America. The Players pride themselves on the family-orientation of their program. It is not uncommon for several generations of families to be involved in producing the show. Several current active members have participated since the 1950's.
Players come in many guises. On the left is shown the cast of a Christmas Show musical review (1989).