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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘There’s a place for everybody in theater’: Spokane Valley Summer Theatre journeys to ‘South Pacific’

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “South Pacific” is receiving an expert’s spin on the classic story.

For the first time in 35 years, actor Andrea Bates is taking the stage in “South Pacific.”

Bates toured the show with Grammy- and Tony Award-winning performer Robert Goulet, starring alongside him as Ensign Nellie Forbush on numerous occasions as understudy for the lead role. .

“I had the unbelievable pleasure of performing with Robert Goulet numerous times as Nellie over those two years, and I’ll never forget it,” Bates said. “It was certainly a lifetime experience, working with one of the greats.”

This time around, Bates, 65, is playing Lt. Genevieve Marshall in SVST’s production.

“It’s probably taken me longer than it would have years ago to learn the dance routines,” Bates said. “Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn the music, because I knew all of that.”

Though learning the choreography has proven difficult at times, Bates said assistant choreographer Sydney Petersen has made the process easier and more welcoming.

Even between rehearsals, Bates said Petersen provided her with videos of the choreography so she could practice her moves.

“It’s been wonderful,” Bates said of jumping into Spokane’s theater scene. “There’s lots of time to get acquainted, share stories and find out about the desires and dreams of these young people, and the history and experience of the seasoned folks.”

“South Pacific” is a grand return for Bates, having last acted in a theater production in 1992. But with the extra help from the production team, Bates found her footing on stage again.

Performing for the first time in so long in “South Pacific,” especially in the Inland Northwest, is a full circle moment, Bates said.

“I played at the INB (Performing Arts Center), back when it was still the INB, for every tour that I did,” she said, “so I was well familiar with Spokane before we came here.”

Bates got to know Spokane when she stopped on tour for “South Pacific” with Goulet, eventually moving to the city with her husband in 2004. Two decades years after moving, Bates decided to return to the stage.

“I dusted off my music, rinsed out my resume and went and auditioned for ‘South Pacific,’ ” Bates said. “It was the last major show I did, and here it is, the first show that I was auditioning for, so it was just kind of funny.”

The case and crew of “South Pacific” handled a last-minute hurdle when they had to change locations from University High School to Central Valley High School. The team moved all the props, set pieces and supplies to Central Valley on June 10.

Bates said she was impressed with how everyone worked so hard to make the location change smooth.

“It was a big project, but everybody chipped in with good cheer and laughter,” she said. “It was a first for me.”

Bates said director Yvonne Johnson was indispensable to making the moving process painless.

Johnson, the founder and leader of SVST who is directing “South Pacific,” said the location change was necessary due to issues with the HVAC system in the U-Hi performance space. Johnson only learned about the issue in the first week of June, just three weeks before opening night.

“With rising unpredictable summer temperatures and the potential for smoke from wildfires, we could not risk the health and safety of our company members and patrons,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, CVSD was able to host us for this summer at Central Valley High School.”

Even though the cast and crew lost two rehearsals out of their five-week schedule due to the move, Johnson said they rose to the challenge.

“I could not be more proud of our entire team for their dedication, commitment, generosity, professionalism and sharing of their talents with our community and region,” she said.

While getting back into the swing of acting, Bates said the warm, welcoming nature of the “South Pacific” cast and crew at SVST made the switch back onto the stage easier for her.

“There’s a place for everybody in theater,” Bates said. “It’s like pickleball – you can do it your whole life.”

Bates said working with the young cast members, including Naomi Cho, 5, and Nathanael Cho, 8, has inspired her to help people who are interested in theatre.

“I was never the best singer, I was never the best dance actor and I certainly was never the best dancer, but there was still a place even for me to have a full career,” Bates said. “If I were to give advice to anyone, go ahead and audition. All you can be is your best and your best is enough. Even though you might not be the best singer, the best dancer, the best actor, there might be a place for you in the show – you never know.”