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JeanneAnn Comiskey, Brendan Comiskey, Reid Arthur's Gather Repertory will present 'Our Town' this summer

DREAMSTIME PHOTO - Gather Repertory will perform an adaptation of the classic Thornton Wilder play 'Our Town' in July and August at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

Since moving to Newberg for college, JeanneAnn Comiskey has dreamed of starting her own theater company in the notably play-bereft small town.

Now, that dream is becoming a reality.

With the help of her husband, Brendan Comiskey, and friend Reid Arthur, JeanneAnn started a joint venture called Gather Repertory in August.

Together, the three recent George Fox University graduates are a theater dream team. JeanneAnn brings the directing experience; Brendan is a skilled "dramaturge," more commonly known as a play researcher; and Arthur is well-known in the community for his stage acting prowess.

"Our hope and our intention is that we will be able to gather the community together to help them understand new ideas and to help us all learn and grow and become better neighbors to each other, better community members," Arthur said.

Besides Newberg High School and George Fox University, Penguin Productions is the only entity in town that consistently puts on plays. PMG FLLE PHOTO - Reid Arthur, one of the co-founders of Gather Repertory, performed in many productions while a student at George Fox University.

Differentiating Gather Repertory from its competitors, JeanneAnn said the three of them will focus less on Shakespearean plays, which is Penguin Productions' bread and butter, and will pay their actors and crew, which most community theaters do not, through grants and donations.

Most notably, all Gather Repertory productions will be carefully selected based on the needs of the community at a given time.

"The idea is to present stories for Newberg that don't often get told in Newberg," Arthur said. "Stories that will be helpful to the community, that will be relevant, that will specifically address what's going on in our community."

In fact, Newberg's current divisive climate inspired Gather Repertory's first production.

Frustrated by the local school board's decision to ban political symbols, including Pride flags, from school property, JeanneAnn approached Arthur in August about helping her produce a play about queer characters.

Arthur, who famously came out as gay during GFU's 2019 Lip Sync Battle, recalled JeanneAnn asking, "'You want to be a part of a play that celebrates queer love?'"

"And I was like, I do, I do want to be in that play," he said.

Finding that perfect first production took several weeks.

"A lot of gay plays are very sad plays, and that's great because that's truthful to the experience, and that's history," Arthur said, but added that this common storyline "wasn't quite what we were looking for."

Instead, Arthur said they wanted to do a production that showcased "what community would look like if we just accepted everyone and just lived life together," without having to specifically address homophobia.

After considering many different plays, they finally settled on 'Our Town,' Thornton Wilder's American Classic that follows the lives of a young couple — in Gather Repertory's version, a young queer couple — and their loved ones in a fictional New Hampshire small town during the early 1900s.

"We kept coming back to 'Our Town,' being like, well, this is a perfect play for Newberg. What if we queered it up a little bit?" Arthur said.

True to the original play, and real-life in a small town, characters will argue and gossip, but still at the end of the day care about and support each other, Arthur said.

He added that they wanted to show the difference between simply "getting into each other's hair and invalidating people's experiences" and that "gay people aren't scary" but rather "just people."

For the little advertising the group did for the show, the trio said the turnout at auditions was great.

"We didn't know what to expect, but we had many times over what we would need to fill the cast," Brendan said. "So, we're super excited about that."

"It was super emotional, actually …," Arthur added. "Just that everyone we needed to put on this show showed up. It's incredible."

Community members of all ages are involved in the production, from middle school to older adults, which allowed them to cast parts age appropriately.

Arthur himself is one of the cast members.

"That was something we talked about from the very beginning," JeanneAnn said, addressing Arthur. "What you've expressed to me is that this is the type of play you never got to be in growing up, because there wasn't an opportunity to … (play) a queer role."

Arthur added that, "there are so limited opportunities for queer actors to play their own experience, and that was really important to me."

Rehearsals for "Our Town" will begin in June.

Performances will be held in the plaza before the Chehalem Cultural Center at 7:30 p.m. July 29-31 and Aug. 5-7.

Accessible to everyone, people can "pay what you want" for tickets, JeanneAnn said. Audience members are recommended to bring their own chairs.

So far, Gather Repertory is halfway to its funding goal for Our Town. All donations go toward actors, production crew and supplies.

To donate, visit their partner PFLAG's website at

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