For everyone, about everyone

Dukesbay Theater’s Randy and Aya Clark on the importance of inclusion and the freedom of a small stage

By Chris Butler on November 14, 2019

We've said it again and again how lucky we are to live in the South Sound, surrounded by a bevy of theater companies doing consistently amazing work. And while it's wonderful to have places like Tacoma Musical Playhouse, which frequently turn out lavish spectacles, it's important to give as much attention to the smaller companies.

As far as Tacoma goes, the Dukesbay Theater is your best bet for not only more intimate shows, but for productions with a focus on newer works, diverse voices, and a celebration of what makes live theater such a thrilling medium. Dukesbay Productions was formed in 2011 by husband-and-wife team Randy and Aya Clark, initially finding performance spaces in local churches before moving to the Merlino Art Center in 2013.

"This was a big move," said Aya. "This was when we rolled up our sleeves (and opened our checkbook) and invested the time and finances into building a theater. Building the theater with all the lighting and sound equipment and the risers with the seating was our biggest step. Would all that work and money invested be worth it? Would other small theater companies want to rent that space from us, and would audience members want to climb up all those stairs to the third floor theater in the Merlino?"

Not only did crowds show up, but companies like New Muses and Changing Scene Theatre Northwest turned to Dukesbay as their go-to stage for their own productions. As Randy explained, the cozy confines of Dukesbay's black box theater provide a different experience than you're likely to get elsewhere in Tacoma.

"Dukesbay has an advantage over most of the larger theaters in the South Sound because of its ability to adapt itself to each show," said Randy. "We can move the seats and place the set in such a way that allows the audience a different experience with each production. Also, our size makes our shows a much more intimate experience. You are, quite literally, in the room."

As we alluded to before, though, the thing that truly differentiates Dukesbay from so many other theater companies is that they have a clear, proactive mission to provide a venue for people of color who might not normally get the spotlight.

"If there are local theater companies that struggle with diversity and inclusion, it is a reflection of how race is perceived in our society in general," said Aya. "I think most of us support the idea of inclusion, but many don't understand that it is not enough to simply ‘not actively discriminate.' One must actively seek out, invite, encourage, and educate for inclusion to happen. ... By telling stories about POCs, or producing a play that is traditionally cast with white actors but intentionally include POCs in the cast, I hope to give the message that theater is for everyone and about everyone."

Dukesbay will be wrapping up their fine production of Proof this weekend, and the final episode of their self-produced staged sitcom, Java Tacoma, will come around in March.

DUKESBAY THEATER, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, tickets and more info at dukesbay.org