As the state came to a virtual standstill in March, a tight-knit group of actors were desperate to get back to performing. The end result of those conversations might be a little unexpected during the times of social distancing and closed stages – they formed a new theatre company dubbed Hjalmer’s Eastside Actors Repertory Theatre (H.E.A.R.T).
“This definitely evolved out of our incredible desire to remain creative and together despite the pandemic challenges,” said Co-President Niki Flynn.
The company’s artistic director and namesake, Hjalmer Anderson, has been a fixture of the Northshore area’s theater scene for decades, including a 23-year tenure at Woodinville High School.
Anderson has also served as director at four local theater companies and was artistic director at the Woodinville Repertory Theatre for more than 20 years.
Although the new company was first the brainchild of actors Becky Gil and Larry Shaw, they said, it made sense to name it after Anderson as a testament to the role he has played in bringing their ideas to fruition.
“Hjalmer is really the glue that brought us together,” Gil said.
The group hasn’t physically been able to return to a stage yet, but by May, they had already began performing via recorded Zoom productions of classic radio theater pieces. The shows are available on The Redmond Academy of Theatre Arts’ Facebook page.
Anderson said he wants H.E.A.R.T to go in an “entirely different direction” than current theaters, namely in the way its leadership structure will work.
“There needs to be a business side and an artistic side,” Anderson said. “The business side is not concerned about making choices on the artistic side.”
The company has already performed 13 and is working on its fourth round of productions, according to Anderson. The cast members do their own makeup and costuming, and virtual backgrounds serve as the “stage."
Anderson then edits the pieces, which takes about six hours to do for each performance, he said.
The experience may have distanced the actors physically, but it has also brought them closer to each other.
“I feel like I’ve really gotten to know these people,” said Ari Shaw, daughter to Co-President Larry Shaw. She said she didn’t know anyone besides her dad when she came into it, but the group has become more “like a family.”
“I am just so proud of seeing how well the group has evolved,” Ari Shaw said. “I get prouder of every show we do.”
The newly formed board is in the process of attaining nonprofit status in the hopes to someday fundraise for its own venue.
“By gosh, we’ve got to get to a stage eventually,” Anderson said.
He added that it would enhance Woodinville’s future nightlife and social scene if there were two local theaters in the area, once gatherings are allowed again.
Several of the members noted that the current situation has catalyzed creative solutions as they've re-imagined these radio scripts to include visual elements and utilized new technology.
“This group is one of the most talented groups I’ve seen. It’s an actor’s repertory theatre," Anderson said, emphasizing the word actors. "That’s what excites me.”