Downtown Cannon Beach is the place to be. New businesses seek to put down roots among the crowds and the fun. Many of the buildings are historic and have an interesting past. The Coaster Theatre is fortunate to be located in the center of it all in a building that has provided entertainment to locals and visitors for over 90 years.
With the box-office facing the main street of Hemlock, and a side entrance of a courtyard where you’ll likely see children running and playing, the theatre building is eye-catching in its historical charm.
The facility was originally opened as a community skating rink in 1924, called “Waves Roller Rink”. If you get a chance to see the inside edges of the old place, you’ll see a recognizable floor. Light-colored, narrow planks that instantly bring back memories of Friday and Saturday night skating, the Hokey Pokey, couples skates, attempting to skate backward, and a few falls ending up in bumps and bruises.
In addition to being a skating rink, it was also used as a theatre. In the 1960’s it was being used more as a performance space. Portland State University (PSU) students used it for their summer stock for many years. Then in 1972 a gentleman named Maurie Clark bought the property and remodeled it into the theatre. After his death in 2001, the Coaster Theatre became a non-profit entity and has been run as such ever since.
Executive Director Patrick Lathrop, originally from Cannon Beach, had moved to southern California and came back temporarily in 2009 to help out. He then moved back in 2013 to live in his hometown and continue his work with the theatre. He says that both local, as well as more well-known performers have provided entertainment at the theatre. Paul Revere and the Raiders performed every summer during the 1960’s. Pink Martini with Storm Large performed in 2015, and John O’Hurley will be doing a one-man show in September 2018. From musicians to magicians, many talented performers of all genres have visited the little theatre.
The facility was remodeled with new seats, curtains, and carpeting in time for its 45th anniversary in 2017. The arrangement of the theatre and seats that you see today is actually opposite of their original locations. Lathrop believes they switched around sometime around 1972. A cozy, intimate setting that allows the audience to feel like they are part of the show, the theatre seats 198 guests.
Currently, the upstairs area is used for storage of costumes. Walking through the colorful clothing, Lathrop is able to name the production and the character that wore each piece. Back when PSU students performed summer stock, the upstairs was a dorm where the students slept.
Stepping out onto the catwalk off of the storage space feels a little spooky. When asked if the place is haunted, Lathrop didn’t bat an eye. “Well, all theaters have ghosts. We certainly have poltergeists. Things will disappear and reappear. You wonder how something got in a drawer when you have been looking all over for it, even in that drawer, and it wasn’t there when you looked before,” he says matter-of-factly.
The program is staffed with volunteers, from performers to backstage help, to ushers. Some are local to Cannon Beach, others come from Tillamook, Nehalem, Manzanita, and even Astoria. “It’s harder for the folks from Astoria to volunteer during summer, that road from Astoria gets awfully busy so it can take a lot of their time getting here,” says Lathrop.
“The talent level is amazing,” beams Lathrop. “You wouldn’t know they were all volunteers.” The theater averages about 50 actors and volunteers during the year. The longest serving volunteer has been there since 1989.
With seven shows performed each year the Coaster Theatre also welcomes people new to the art. If a person wants to try out acting, ushering, or otherwise helping in any way, they are more than welcome to come to check it out. The theatre also exposes children to the arts. Two theatre camps are held each summer through the Coaster Kidz program, plus others are held during holiday and spring breaks. This summer’s program theme is “Return to Oz.” A Visual Arts program is also offered for kids on Saturdays.
Online reviews from guests of the theatre rave about the cozy space which provides excellent viewing from every seat, and the impressive quality of the acting.
In addition to performances, the space is also available for rental for special events.
From its beginnings in the 1920’s as a roller rink – which also showed silent movies – to its rebirth as a premier community theatre, the Coaster Theatre offers a variety of entertainment opportunities to thrill both locals and visitors to the northern Oregon Coast all year long.
108 N. Hemlock
PO Box 643
Cannon Beach OR 97110