From Astoria, it’s a five-minute drive to the theatre of Fort Columbia, WA. Located near the end of Megler Bridge, it’s a simple river crossing to get there. Still, there’s more than one kind of bridge at work with the playhouse. PAPA, the Peninsula Association of Performing Arts, is currently assembling their biggest undertaking yet. It’s a familiar tale, but a bold one. Their play? Beauty and Beast.
The play’s director is Long Beach resident Brooke Flood, 26. The Theatre and Tech Design graduate admits hesitation in tackling such a well-known, eye-rolling fable. That is until she read the script.
“We’ve struck gold,” says Flood. “Reading the script, I was blown away by how moving and relevant it was.”
Anyone can recite the famous plot, but can they recall its message? The central theme is “Kill the Beast.” It’s a subject that tugs a cord with PAPA. They’re a family-friendly theatre with a threefold job: to usher in community arts, build up local talent and harbor an outlet for people to experience something new. There’s only one problem. The community doesn’t want to experience anything new.
“They want to see things they’ve already seen, things they already know they love,” says Brooke. “Like the Beast in the play, they’re terrified of what they don’t know. If it looks different, it must be bad.”
Last year, Flood was the assistant director of a new play, “She Loves Me.” A phenomenal show, not even Brooke could believe how well PAPA pulled it off. The local nonprofit prides itself on the belief that people don’t need to drive to Portland or Seattle to see a great production. While many came to Fort Columbia to see it, the play wasn’t well known and PAPA lost a lot of ticket sales as a result. Thus, PAPA needs to put on something special this year to win the crowd.
“This is my hope,” smiles Flood. “All these people will come to the show because they already know Beauty and the Beast and love it. Then we’ll slam the nuances of it in their face and blow them away.”
The projected impact is at work already. The production endured an exciting audition period. Traditionally, their plays feature thespians of mainly children and seniors. This year’s “Beauty and the Beast” attracts a range of young adults as well, thanks in part to social media.
With a diverse cast in place, Brooke and her team excel in what they call a massive jigsaw puzzle. It’s PAPA’s goal to not only put on quality productions but to help people hone skills that they’ll carry on into real life.
Some of the younger girls, for example, are quick to build up social walls by clicking together. Others are quick to isolate themselves. Through the theatre, girls develop social skills that will leave them empowered. After only 2 hours of rehearsal, one timid girl was already projecting herself, standing straighter and possessing a confidence that she didn’t have before.
“If we can accomplish that in two hours, imagine what we can do in two months,” says Brooke.
Boys have taken to the stage as well, enjoying a balance between physical activity and mental stimulation. Theater is often an undiscovered outlet in releasing energy. These young men are getting their chance to grow stronger physically while encouraged to show emotion as a sign of strength.
“Where else are they going to learn these things while also expressing themselves?” Flood adds, “It’s so good for kids to be around their peers and feel confident because that’s what they’ll be doing for the rest of their lives. I don’t see anybody teaching them these things anywhere. This is why I’m passionate about theatre. For them, it just looks like fun. For me, this is my profession.”
It’s a privilege for Brooke to inspire youth to communicate, work as a team and resolve conflict. What she has discovered is that many young adults never had the chance to develop these skills either. These young people are headed out into a world that doesn’t revolve around them. Now is their time to learn about commitment, schedules and having thirty other people depending on them to show up, and on time too!
For Brooke and her team, Beauty and the Beast is an examination of trust, on how to recognize the human element in areas that struggle with it. The character of Belle is viewed as an outcast because she’s a woman of grit and intelligence. The Beast is portrayed as a dumb monster, but really he’s a five-dimensional character. Belle sees in the Beast what we should all do for each other. If we see something good in someone, we should work toward bringing it out from the layers of fur and fangs. It’s a philosophy that Brooke has used with her actors.
Whether it’s a local thespian in makeup or an audience member in their seat, she’s positive that everyone will feel as if they’ve been on a journey with this play. Her hope is for the community to notice a hidden good in each of our surroundings, roused to draw it out.
“In a way, the Beast is all of us,” concluded Brooke. “It’s everyone who has been told they’re different and believed that lie. It’s about being comfortable in our own skin and pulling out the good.”