You are currently viewing Port Townsend theater wins grant with community backing

Port Townsend theater wins grant with community backing

PORT TOWNSEND — Key City Public Theatre has received its largest-ever grant, executive artistic director Denise Winter announced, thanks to the local supporters who came forward first.

The playhouse at 419 Washington St. has been under renovation for more than a year now, with Winter and her crew hoping to reopen for a holiday show this year and a season of plays in 2022. Meantime, work with contractors and vendors — on new seats, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, touchless fixtures — devours Winter’s days.

“When all is said and done, this is about a half-million-dollar project,” she said.

On Friday, she at last got to talk about the giant piece of good news: KCPT’s $176,500 award from the Murdock Charitable Trust based in Vancouver, Wash. The trust was established by the late Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock, co-founder of Tektronix, Inc.

To win this kind of grant, Winter said, her nonprofit theater had to prove its abundant community backing.

The story of the Murdock money started with an exchange between Winter and one patron, who back in 2019 called to ask how to help fund a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The playhouse has been too hot or too cold for too many years, and some attendees have come once and never come back, Winter said.

Teaching artists Bry Kifolo, left, Brendan Chambers and Maggie Bulkley will lead two youth theater workshops — one for 8- to 12-year-olds and one for 13- to 17-year-olds — in Quilcene next month. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Working with sponsor Frederickson Electric, Winter got a bid for a new HVAC system, and let the would-be supporter know.

“The patron wrote back and said, ‘I’m going to fund it all.’ I was just floored,” she recalled.

The donor, who asked to be anonymous, was the first in a series who’ve altered KCPT’s future.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering spaces across the world are looking to install new HVAC systems to provide cleaner air. KCPT, at the same time, has reconfigured its interior, to make more room in the playhouse and offices. This meant more rent.

“I said out loud one day: If I could just get a donation, to pay rent for that office space, we’ve got this,” she remembered.

The next day a donor walked in the door with an estate gift, which she set aside to pay office rent for the coming year.

Winter then began asking supporters for donations to fund the replacement of the playhouse’s old, uncomfortable seats. KCPT then received gifts and naming sponsorships covering some $30,000 in costs.

By February 2020, Winter was ready to apply for a First Federal Community Foundation grant to further remodeling work on the theater’s cramped lobby, concessions and restrooms.

Then came the coronavirus. First Federal made grants primarily to human services organizations, turning KCPT down.

By midsummer, with the vaccination rollout underway, the saga began to change. The theater received $15,000 in CARES Act funding and, after Winter reapplied, $30,000 from the First Federal foundation.

All of this goes toward the makeover of the theater. At the same time, KCPT’s staff plans for reopening — and offers youth programs in Port Townsend and Quilcene. Artistic Associate Brendan Chambers and instructors Maggie Bulkley and Bry Kifolo teach classes for children and teens, replete with safety protocols. They hope to continue the workshops into the fall.

Key City Public Theatre executive artistic director Denise Winter, left, with Tobi McEnerney and her son Argus, 9, watch the youth theater workshop students perform at Chetzemoka Park on Friday. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

In November, Winter began the Murdock application process. A trust staffer advised her that KCPT had a chance to receive $175,500 if it could raise an equal amount from other sources.

Winter laid out her local support, applied for that amount, and got it.

She also received another hometown grant: $15,000 for youth programs from the Jefferson Community Foundation’s COVID recovery fund. Local residents’ donations stoked that fund earlier this year.

There’s much more to raise, for remodeling and basic operating costs.

The new Key City Playhouse will be more spacious — and easier to keep clean — than in the old days, she said. The long shutdown gave the theater time to transform.

“Because our doors are closed, we can do a much larger project,” Winter said — “and now, it’s needed.”


Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsula