MONMOUTH -- It isn't often you can find an elementary school student who can boast a role in a William Shakespeare play -- unless you were like Rob Harriman and grew up in Monmouth during the 1970s.
This was when the late Don Weiss, a professor of humanities at Western Oregon University, was still running his home-grown children's theater project that taught youths the basics of drama and staged regular performances.
Costumes were made in Weiss' home. He and wife, Elizabeth, wrote and composed original music. There were printed playbills. As the kids grew older, performances moved to Main Street Park and area schools.
Harriman must have been in fourth grade when he portrayed Stephano in Weiss' version of "The Tempest."
"It's hard to look back and say it was great," said Harriman, now 46 and a teacher at Luckiamute Valley Charter School, with a laugh. "Kids can only do what kids can do."
Harriman doesn't recall much from that particular show, but does remember summers in Monmouth spent between the playground and rehearsing Shakespeare and Moliere.
"Don was attracted to the theater," Elizabeth Weiss said. "He mostly started it just so kids would have something to do in the summer."
Weiss' summertime project went by the name Sacre Lane Theater, the Sacre Lane Players and Commedia Del Arte. It eventually faded away in 1979, Elizabeth Weiss said.
Now, Harriman and his wife, Barb, and 20 local children from Monmouth and Independence are in the process of reviving the tradition.
The Weiss Memorial Children's Theater will perform its first play on Saturday, July 23, on the outdoor stage in front of WOU's Rice Auditorium. The event will feature two one-act plays from "Theatre for a Small Planet."
"People like to see plays and especially see their children in plays," Elizabeth Weiss said. "I think Don would have been happy about it continuing."
Harriman moved back to Monmouth three years ago and was dismayed to see the program had long since ceased.
"I wanted my kids to have the kind of memories I had," said Harriman, who acted throughout college before embarking on a career in computers and graphic design. "For me, it nurtured a real love for the performing arts."
After Weiss' death on Jan. 12, the Harrimans mulled restarting the children's theater, then volunteered
after the Monmouth-Independence
Community Art Association offered to fund a show.
"We are starting from the ground up," said Harriman, who has never directed a play before. "Any infrastructure there might have been is long gone now."
But he's gotten plenty of help. Dallas High School's theater department is donating costumes. Sets and equipment are being provided by Milwaukie High School.
The project appears to have made an impact on some of its early participants from years ago.
Patrick Page, a Central High School graduate who's one of the leads in the Broadway musical "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark," is a Weiss alumni. So was Scott Walker, a teacher in Milwaukie who has been president of the Oregon Theater Arts Association.
Harriman and his troupe have been rehearsing almost nightly since June 12. His hope is that more volunteers will become involved and that the show can become an annual event the way it used to be.
"It's got to go on," he said.
Returns to Stage
The Weiss Memorial Children's Theater.
Two free shows in front of Rice Auditorium at Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth, on Saturday, July 23. Shows are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The cast will perform two one-act plays: "The 10,000 Treasure Mountain," a Chinese folk story, and "The Travels of Farley the Fox," an English fairy tale.
For more information:
Rob Harriman via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.