For many, the holiday season is filled with traditions that help keep the spirit alive. One of the most cheerful places to be this December is the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Throughout the years, the Washington Center has become a place for local community members to create their own traditions.

Washington Center Outside
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts has a large variety of shows to please all audiences. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

This year’s lineup of festive productions is nothing short of exciting. From annual performances like the Nutcracker by Ballet Northwest and Studio West, to the Community Messiah Sing-Along, memories are created from the moment you arrive. The diverse artistic partners at the Washington Center put on excellent quality performances and events throughout the year.

During the holiday season, approximately one hour before each show begins, a magical snowfall begins outside of the theater creating a realistic effect that marvels visitors young and old. In addition to the snowfall, no theater is complete during the holidays without festive decor that transports you to a winter wonderland. For the past six years, the Washington Center has been receiving a holiday makeover by two volunteers that are passionate about all things Christmas. Olympia residents and mother-daughter duo, Dorrie Carr and Shelly Thomas, have teamed up to transform this theater into an enchanting setting.

The tradition of decking the Washington Center’s halls first began in 2012 when Dorrie visited the theater and noticed that the one lonely tree in the lobby was leaving a lot to the imagination. “I asked if I could tweak the Christmas tree a bit,” explains Dorrie. “Ever since, the display just seems to get bigger and bigger. I really enjoy transforming the theater with my daughter, and the staff is always so appreciative of the end result.” Dorrie brought her daughter Shelly on board in 2013 and together they’ve helped the one sparse tree in the lobby expand to include an intricately decorated, nine-foot tree in its place, a smaller tree in the mezzanine, icicle lights on the concession stand, birch trees, nutcrackers, elves and so much more.

Washingon Center Giant Light Up Unicorn
This year’s theme for the Washington Center is unicorns, with the stand-out piece being the giant light-up unicorn that the kids all love. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Not only are the decorations that Dorrie and Shelly put together nothing short of spectacular, but each year they change in theme. In addition to decorating the Washington Center’s lobby, Dorrie has also taken over decorating her husband’s work office as well as the Madigan Army Medical Center for the past 24 years. With all of the craziness that comes with decorating multiple organizations for the holidays, many of the decorations rotate between the different locations, while new decorations are purchased to add into the mix. “I often choose the theme simply by finding a specific piece that speaks to me before the holiday season even begins,” says Dorrie. One year, a massive faux fur, blow-up teddy bear inspired the Madigan Center’s theme, while this year, a six-and-a-half-foot light-up unicorn was the inspiration for the Washington Center.

To those that don’t work at the theater and have never been a part of the holiday experience, the transformation is something of a mystery. “This holiday season was a highly anticipated experience for me as I came on board with the Washington Center this last summer,” explains Jessica Caldwell, marketing and sales director at the Washington Center. “I had known about the beauty of the Washington Center experience for the holidays from living in Olympia but now had the opportunity to see the magic come together from the inside. There was one day in particular in which we turned on the snow outside in front of the Box Office. Our celebrated volunteers Dorrie and Shelly had just finished placing the giant light-up unicorn in our lobby along with the beautifully decorated trees. I marveled at the feeling of celebration, of excitement, and was so thankful to call the Washington Center ‘home’ as my professional outlet.”

Washingon Center Jill Barnes with Kids
Jill Barnes and a few young theater goers enjoys the magical snowfall outside of the Washington Center. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Although Dorrie and Shelly are so busy decorating the Washington Center each November that Dorrie barely has time to think of her own tree at home, she doesn’t mind it one bit. “For Shelly and I, this project is truly a labor of love,” she expresses.

Dorrie and Shelly have created somewhat of a name for themselves throughout the staff at the theater. “We think of these two as our decorating elves,” says Jill Barnes, executive director at the Washington Center. “They truly bring the cheer and the holidays to the theater. When they arrive with all of their decorations in tow, that’s when we know that they holidays have officially arrived.”

Part of the magic of the holidays comes from creating memories that will last a lifetime. The newest campaign at the theater is Cultivating Culture, Not Clutter. “Here at the Washington Center,” expresses Jill, “we’re in the business of creating memories. I’m sure you remember your first performance in a theater and how you felt when you walked in through the doors as a child.  Or, perhaps a special date when you watched a show that you had been eager to see. These memories are a part of our memory bank. You feel the emotions with your head and your heart.”

Washington Center Plaque Reading Tree Decorated by Shelly and Dorrie
The plaque hanging on the tree in the Washington Center thanks Dorrie Carr and Shelly Thomas for decorating the theater. Photo courtesy: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Giving a gift certificate to go towards an experience at the Washington Center or a ticket to an upcoming show can make a wonderful gift that’s sure to result in a memory that will last forever.

“As the marketing and sales director,” says Jessica, “I have the honor of interacting with so many of our patrons who attend live performances here at the Center. It is a joy to see their faces light up, especially the youth who are attending shows, everyone truly embracing the experience of the arts. ‘Tis the season!”

Check out all of the upcoming shows taking place by visiting the The Washington Center for the Performing Arts website, reading their blog posts or visiting their Facebook page.



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