by Peggy Welker, Publicity Chairperson
We all love to be entertained, whether it be a good movie (with popcorn, of course), a football game, a Broadway production, a National Geographic special, a reality TV show, or a great musical concert. It is our way of escaping the stress of everyday life that takes us to our own “happy place!” However, back in the early days of Port Ludlow, entertainment options were limited … Seattle was, and still is, a long way to go for a relaxing evening of entertainment. The internet was just gaining steam, there was no smart TV, and professional music groups had little motivation to come out to the peninsula!
THE BEGINNING: Bev Rothenburg was one of the founders of the Port Ludlow Arts Council (now Port Ludlow Performing Arts). Here is a memory she shared regarding how the organization began: “In 1991 the Bay Club was brand new. There were not many homes in the planned community of Port Ludlow. The Bay Club was empty most of the time. My late husband and I purchased our home in Inner Harbor that year. One day the manager of the Club asked me if I would get together some friends to sponsor a concert. Her name was Shurli Elson. She had a string orchestra picked out, and the developer Pope & Talbot would pay their fee. I contacted a few friends who all readily agreed to get on board. Those friends and founding members were Annette Koch (deceased), Janet Force, Jim and Dion Watson – all of whom still live in Port Ludlow – and me, of course. In those days there was great rivalry between North and South Bay communities in Port Ludlow, and we wanted to try to bridge the gap! We asked North Bay resident Jane Sanford (deceased) to join us, and she agreed. We named ourselves the Port Ludlow Arts Council … we began making modest profits from the very first concert. At that time the Bay Club did not charge us for the use of the auditorium, and the manager of the Port Ludlow Inn gave complimentary hotel rooms to our performers.”
EARLY YEARS: The original board was small, with only five directors. In the early years, most of the Arts Council entertainment was local. When the board heard a musician or group that they enjoyed, they would invite them to come. It was soon discovered that there was a wealth of fabulous talent within and around the Port Ludlow community. For example, the 1995 Christmas concert was performed by the Port Townsend Community Chorus, a group of 45 male and female singers affiliated with the Port Angeles Symphony Chamber Orchestra. In fact, The Port Angeles Chamber Orchestra was the performing group for the very first May concert in 1992, and they returned in 1993, 1994 and 1995. Today PLPA and the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra still have a close working relationship through the “Adventures in Music” outreach program. In 1997 local soprano Althea Barnes was a smashing success, and two years later she appeared with her sons and daughters-in-law as the Barnes Family Players for a fantastic musical variety evening.
MUSIC ON THE GREEN: The first Music on the Green concert occurred in 1998 with “Opus One Big Band” and the “Dukes of Dabob.” It was a huge success with more than 225 people attending and marked the beginning of a long tradition of outdoor Music on the Green concerts that have continued every summer until very recently!
A HARD-WORKING BOARD: The fledgling board tried to keep expenses to a minimum by doing all of the work themselves—auditioning, booking, printing tickets, flyers and programs. Those were pre- Port Ludlow Voice and Brown Paper Ticket days, so the five directors did all their own publicity and “hawking” of tickets. Thus was born the annual printed program, with Annett Koch initially signing up 21 advertisers. Today, our beautiful programs are a work of art and handed out at every concert. These programs are created through a joint effort of volunteers who contribute the photos, writing, artwork, printing and solicitation of advertisers. The most recent program boasts more than 50 regular advertisers.
THE BAY CLUB PIANO: In the beginning, performers had to deal with a sub-standard piano. During one of the early concerts with a wonderful jazz pianist from Cornish, the hammers on the piano became stuck and the musician interrupted his performance to stand up and fix them. After that, a committee was formed to purchase the Baldwin Baby Grand piano that we still use today. An expenditure of that amount was way beyond the Arts Council budget, so Pope Resources loaned them funds for part of the cost. Free Spirits donated $1000, and the Arts Council covered the balance. Within a year they were able to repay Pope in full. More importantly, this marked the beginning of a symbiotic relationship that PLPA still has to this day with the Bay Club and the South Bay Community Association (SBCA).
IMPROVEMENTS: Over the years, the Arts Council had taken the initiative to continually improve the experience of their audiences by purchasing audio and sound equipment, lighting, tents for “Music on the Green,” a piano ramp, regular piano tuning and supporting acoustic improvements in the Bay Club Auditorium. Most recently, in 2018 a new sound system, cameras and video screens were installed as a shared expense between the SBCA and PLPA.
PLPA WAS BORN: In 2014, the name Port Ludlow Arts Council was officially changed to Port Ludlow Performing Arts, but the mission of the original Port Ludlow Arts Council did not change. The goal remains to bring a full range of cultural events to the community so that our residents can enjoy quality entertainment without lengthy drives to the larger metropolitan areas. Over the years, that mission has expanded to include an extensive outreach program that brings music opportunities and education to school children on the Peninsula.
EDUCATION OUTREACH: Let’s take a look at how the education program grew through the next few years. Up until 1999 the Arts Council focused its efforts on bringing entertainment primarily to Port Ludlow residents. However, on September 11, 1999, the Arts Council hosted a benefit party and concert at the Bay Club. The event was a huge success and represented the first time in their eight-year history that they had specifically earmarked proceeds from a concert to go to the support of young musicians. In mid-2007, through the efforts of Martha Dawson and Judy Bergquist, the Arts Council sponsored its first concert for the Chimacum High School and Middle School. They worked with the school superintendent and music directors to formalize the relationship. From that time on, the outreach program has continued to grow and evolve, providing, among other things, student scholarships, music camps, musical concerts, educational workshops, musical instrument rentals to needy students, and the purchase of band uniforms.
MARTHA DAWSON FUND: Ron and Martha Dawson started working on the PLPA board in the early part of 2000. For many years they both served in multiple positions on the board, including president and vice-president, and Martha was directly involved in the initial education outreach efforts. In 2013, Martha, who was an accomplished cellist and a former music teacher herself, passed away unexpectedly. The following year, the “Martha Dawson Memorial Fund” was established for the purpose of providing musical outreach services to our area schools. This insured the continued growth and support for the outreach program which has become such an integral part of who PLPA is today. Ron Dawson remains a strong supporter of our organization.
NON-PROFIT STATUS: Over the last thirty years, many factors have contributed to the success of Port Ludlow Performing Arts, including attending booking conferences, where many premium performers can be previewed over several days. In January of 2001 the Arts Council became a Washington State Non-Profit, allowing all monetary contributions to be tax deductible. The evolution of the internet enabled PLPA to establish its own website and contract with Brown Paper Tickets. In addition, the establishment of the Port Ludlow Voice in 1998 helped promote and publicize the educational programs and concert performances. All these are examples of how and why PLPA continued to expand and grow into the exemplary organization that it is today.
PLPA LOVES ITS VOLUNTEERS AND SUPPORTERS! From the very beginning, the one thing that has remained a constant and has been the primary reason for the continued success of Port Ludlow Performing Arts has been the volunteers, the donors and concert underwriters. Over the last 30 years, hundreds of supportive people, some musicians and many simply music lovers, have contributed countless volunteer hours and many thousands of dollars to insure that PLPA will continue to provide musical opportunities to underprivileged children and that this area remains a center for high quality musical entertainment that contributes so much to the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here in Port Ludlow.