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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spotlight: Civic’s ‘Orphans’ lands in national competition

Jamie Flanery, standing, and Billy Hultquist perform a scene from Civic’s production of “Orphans.” (File)

For the first time since 2011, one of Spokane Civic Theatre’s recent productions has made it through to nationals in an annual competition hosted by the American Association of Community Theatre. Known as AACTFest, the event begins in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on June 23, and Civic will be represented by its production of Lyle Kessler’s “Orphans,” a gritty, intense character drama that premiered in January.

The Civic has been hosting fundraising events to cover travel expenses for the show’s director, Marianne McLaughlin, and three actors – Maxim Chumov, Jamie Flanery and Billy Hultquist. On Tuesday, McLaughlin and her cast will present their hourlong annotation of “Orphans,” a benefit show that will also function as a trial run for the real thing.

Civic has been to AACTFest a few times before – it last appeared with its production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – and this year it will be competing against nine other community theaters from around the country.

“The process has really been extraordinary,” McLaughlin said. “I have loved every minute of it. And these three guys are very hard workers, and I have so much respect for that as an actor and as a director.”

But presenting a show at AACTFest isn’t as simple as merely duplicating the original production. Each theater group gets only an hour to perform, meaning most plays are whittled down. Crews will have 10 minutes before and after the production to build up and tear down the set.

The show’s cast describes the process of preparing for competition as a whirlwind. They passed through two rounds of competition without much preparation: State competitions were held only two and a half weeks after the initial run of “Orphans” ended, and they were rehearsing for regionals in Oregon just two weeks after that.

McLaughlin has been to nationals as an actor with Civic twice before – she won Best Supporting Actress for their production of “Assassins” in 2007 – but this is her first time attending as a director.

“This was a real quick turnaround, but these guys were amazing,” McLaughlin said of her cast. “With ‘Assassins,’ we had at least four months (to prepare) after the show closed. … What they went through in those two weeks was very difficult.”

As actors, Chumov and Hultquist have never competed at a national level before; Flanery has, but not with Civic. The show will be adjudicated by a small group of theater professionals, who later dole out awards for the performances and productions they deem the best.

But the potential for awards is very nearly an afterthought: What has mattered most to the “Orphans” cast is the bond they’ve formed while working so closely together.

“If we go to Grand Rapids and do what we’ve done, I can accept whatever is judged,” Hultquist said. “I know that I’m giving it my all and these two are giving their all, and we’ll leave it on the stage.”

“I love working with these guys,” Chumov said. “Their strength as actors has just motivated me to work harder.”

“We rehearsed for more hours than a typical show,” Flanery said, “but we loved it.”

And as their journey to nationals draws closer, they’re receiving more and more assistance from their fellow actors: Last week, some Civic regulars arranged a musical revue that raised more funds for the trip to Grand Rapids. The encouragement, Flanery said, validates all the hours they’ve now dedicated to the show.

“The theater community in this town is spectacular,” he said. “They’re so supportive. … At every turn, we’ve been so blessed. That’s just the way the community is.”

Calling all volunteers

The Mobile Mural Project, which since October has used vibrant, locally created art to hide a long vacant lot at the corner of Third Avenue and Division Street, is headed into storage.

Plans are underway to redevelop the site – originally a church that was demolished to make way for a hotel project that withered during the Great Recession. The property owners aim to build a retail and office building, meaning the need to cover up an ugly pit has passed.

Karen Mobley, program coordinator for the Spokane Arts Fund, said the murals’ time in storage is expected to be temporary, and when a new location is identified, they’ll be reinstalled. In the meantime, Mobley needs 10 strong people who can lend a hand dismantling the murals, beginning at 8 a.m. June 19. Interested? Email Mobley at

Carolyn Lamberson