Salem Region Embraces a Growing Theatre Scene
Editor’s Note: As the state takes actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, Travel Salem urges everyone to follow recommended safety guidelines and make informed travel decisions. We hope that you are inspired to explore Oregon and the Salem region when it makes sense to do so.
By Matt Wastradowski
Nearly a decade ago, a simple Facebook page signaled the launch of a new era for performing arts in Oregon’s state capital.
It was on June 7, 2012, that the Salem Theatre Network announced itself to the world with a simple Facebook post that asked fans to invite their friends, colleagues, groups, and organizations to join the case. “The more people who network, the better this will work!” the post reads.
It’s safe to say that the Salem area arts scene heard the call; nearly eight years later, 12 theater organizations comprise the Salem Theatre Network, which has become a force for growing the local performing arts scene and showcasing talent from around the Willamette Valley. And that Facebook page, now boasting more than 1,700 “likes”, is a hub of activity—from promoting upcoming shows to boosting local talent to putting out the call for volunteers.
Here’s a look at some of the 12 groups and venues that have helped the Salem Theatre Network grow the local arts scene through classic performances and innovative offerings.
The Elsinore Theatre
The Elsinore Theatre, named for the castle in Shakespeare's Hamlet, opened in the spring of 1926. At the time, it showed silent films and vaudeville shows—and was praised as one of the region's most regal theaters.
The silent films and vaudeville shows might be a relic of the past—but nearly a century later, the downtown Salem theater remains a vital presence in the local arts scene. Known for great acoustics, the Elsinore hosts all manner of live performances—music from local and national acts, theater, classic cinema, symphonic performances, choral concerts, and more.
Founded in February 2013, Enlightened Theatrics prides itself on offering compelling musical theatre experiences inside Salem's Historic Grand Theatre. The group aims to showcase four to five musical productions each year, with a desire to showcase a mix of thoughtful and more lighthearted shows; in recent years, productions have included Sweeney Todd, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and The Wizard of Oz.
The professional company also works hard to maintain a local presence long after the lights come up, making an impact through summertime performing arts camps for Salem youth and teens.
There’s an undeniable charm to the historic theaters in downtown Salem—but Pentacle Theatre takes a different approach, hosting performances in an intimate, yet rustic playhouse surrounded by Oregon oaks and Douglas fir trees some six miles west of downtown.
Today, the 66-year-old community theater company offers eight-play seasons that showcase a variety of theatrical styles; its 2020 season, for instance, includes crowd-pleasing favorites like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.
Theatre 33 at Willamette University
There is certainly a time and a place for classic productions from some of the world’s best-known playwrights—but Theatre 33, in residence at Willamette University, is working to ensure that new voices get their moment in the spotlight, as well.
The play development company helps regional playwrights develop new scripts—all the way from basic workshop performances (with lights, sound, costumes, and scripts in hand) to world-premiere stage productions. Theatre 33 has produced more than a dozen new plays to date, with most taking place in the Pacific Northwest and touching on themes relevant to Oregon.
Theatre 33 does all that by working with theatre students on all phases of production—and by soliciting feedback from audiences at post-show talkbacks.
Keizer Homegrown Theatre
Volunteers are the heartbeat of Keizer Homegrown Theatre—a community theater group run entirely by volunteers. That means set builders and actors alike are doing it for the love of community theater.
That love for theater shines through in the company’s current season, which includes a wide variety of shows—including Steel Magnolias, The Book of Will, and Every Christmas Story Ever Told (a humorous production spotlighting popular Christmas stories and exploring Christmas traditions from around the world).
Capitol City Theater
Capitol City Theater is your home in Salem for all things comedy: The theater hosts some kind of live comedy performance almost every night of the week. The slate includes open mic nights, improv comedy, classes, comedy competitions, touring comics, and theatrical shows—all in the heart of downtown Salem.
Local Theatre Groups
The Salem Theatre Network has been instrumental in growing the local performing arts scene, but several other groups are giving fans plenty of reason to stand up and cheer after the lights come up.
One such outfit is the Verona Studio, which prides itself on offering bold, challenging performances of contemporary and classical productions in a stripped-down theater setting.
And the next generation of actors, dancers, and technical staff are sharpening their skills in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Western Oregon University. The program immerses students in all manner of theatre and dance—including performance, design, history, technical information, and more—and public performances are held throughout the year.
Learn about more performing arts experiences and venues in Salem and the Mid-Willamette Valley region by visiting www.TravelSalem.com.