In 1968 Atherton, Stan Glarum, musical director of Lewis and Clark College, and Fred Kline, head of Portland State’s Art Department, were instrumental in starting Portland State University’s Haystack Program in Cannon Beach. PSU’s Summer Stock Company was a feature of the Haystack program at the theatre, and so began a long history of PSU Theatre Arts Department productions in Cannon Beach directed by Asher Wilson, Jack Featheringill, William Tate and Tom Hill. That first year of 1969 PSU players performed a play a week, rehearsing one in the morning, a second in the afternoon and performing the third in the evening, spending day and night at the theatre – even sleeping in the theatre’s loft.
In 1972, Maurie Clark, a Portland patron of the arts, purchased the building and after an extensive remodel presented Cannon Beach with the Coaster Theatre Playhouse as we know it today.
The PSU Summer Stock Company opened at the newly remodeled theatre on June 29, 1972. That winter the townspeople of Cannon Beach along with D.K. Smith and Bill Steidel at the helm put on the first community production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, beginning the long tradition of the Christmas Dickens’ Play. The following spring Clackamas Community College brought a production to the Coaster Theatre stage, starting a nineteen year series of spring shows. That same year the North Coast Chamber Orchestra presented a series of Sunday afternoon concerts. From 1978-1992 the Oregon Coast Performing Arts Society brought such diverse and talented groups as The Oregon Mime Theatre, Oregon Symphony String Quartet, the Eugene Ballet Company, Seattle Brass Ensemble, The Oregon Shakespearean Festival Actors, Philadelphia String Quartet, the United States Air Force Band, to mention a few.
In 1985, under the direction of Stephen Diehl, the Coaster Theatre began producing shows year round. On Golden Pond, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking and The Fantastiks comprised that ambitious first summer repertory with a group of actors including Mimi Smith, Colleen Toomey, Ken Grant, Jack Shields, Merril Lynn Taylor, Paul Deuber and Darren Hull. Portland’s Mark Allen Players started performing summers at the Coaster Theatre starting in 1987.
The Passion and commitment of Maurie Clark was a prime mover to the success of the Coaster Theatre. In 1992 Stephen Diehl said “The 20 year history of the Coaster Theatre is really the story of one man’s willingness to create a place where children and adults, artists and dreamers – everyone – can come in and play. The benefits of Maurie Clark’s on-going support have been felt by thousands of people: the actors, the community and the audience we attract in ever increasing numbers.” Jack Shields sums up the uniqueness of the theatre when he said “The Coaster Theatre has always, always been a warm and wonderful place to do the work, whether acting or directing. I think it is an absolute jewel box of a place to play.”
In 2001, after the death of Maurie Clark, the Coaster theatre became a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization with a board of directors and several committees to help oversee the running of the theatre. With the resignation of Stephen Diehl in 2002, the theatre board hired Craig Shepherd as Executive Director. During his tenure the Coaster theatre joined the American Association of Community Theatres, participating in its National Theatre Festival and winning numerous prizes. The Coaster continued to produce 7 or 8 productions a year, offer special events such as concerts, Reader’s Theatre, and began offering educational programs for kids 6 and up.
After the resignation of Craig Shepherd in 2013, Patrick Lathrop (the Education Director) took over as Executive Director. With the help of an active Board of Directors, staff and wonderful volunteers the theatre continues to produce 7 shows each year, host special event concerts and educational camps for our Coaster Theatre Kidz.
The Coaster Theatre is fortunate to have a talented and dedicated troupe of volunteers, actors and supporters. With the continual support of the residents of the North Coast, visitors from across the globe, sponsors, advertisers, season subscribers and patrons we will continue the tradition of live theatre in Cannon Beach.