Auburn Avenue Theater Coordinator Jim Kleinbeck returns live performance to the stage during the month of May, starting with jazz guitarist Michael Powers at 7:30 p.m. May 1. (Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter)

Auburn Avenue Theater Coordinator Jim Kleinbeck returns live performance to the stage during the month of May, starting with jazz guitarist Michael Powers at 7:30 p.m. May 1. (Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter)

Auburn Avenue Theater re-opens after a yearlong closure

It was early in March 2020, and the Avenue Community Players were closing in on opening night of their stage production of “Matilda.”

At about 3 p.m. March 4, just as the players, many of them small children, were gathering excitedly outside before that final dress rehearsal, theater coordinator Jim Kleinbeck got the bad news from his boss at the Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.

The city had closed the Auburn Avenue Theater and other venues in wake of the first emergency order from Gov. Jay Inslee, indeed a week in advance of other regional theaters.

The show would not go on.

“I emailed the news to the cast and crew. It was tough. We had a lot of kids in that show who were crying out in the parking lot, kids who’d been driven in by their parents and hadn’t gotten the message yet. It was just a weird, weird time,” Kleinbeck said.

Like virtually everyone in those early days of the pandemic, Kleinbeck expected life to return to normal in a few weeks. In that spirit, he rescheduled “Matilda” twice, did what he could with virtual performances, held a virtual talent show, a virtual battle of the bands and smaller theater classes with students wearing masks.

“Parents couldn’t come and watch their kids do their final products, so we videotaped it, sent it home and sent the link through emails. We talked about doing virtual stuff, but I got so much feedback from parents and kids saying they do enough virtual stuff. Here — at the theater — is where they get to be with their friends and stuff. And we didn’t get to do our normal summer camp for kids because it just wasn’t going to work out.”

He also busied himself with other city tasks, like helping out at the Auburn Senior Activities Center.

But the weeks dragged into months and the months into a year without live theater and live performances. The theater coordinator, suddenly without a theater to coordinate, puzzled: “How to make dry spaghetti stick to the walls.”

Until now.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, a bit of the good stuff everyone has missed sharply from those distant prepandemic days returns when local jazz guitarist extraordinaire Michael Powers hits the Auburn Avenue Theater stage for a one-night performance, the first there in more than a year.

This Northwest favorite plays funk, pop, soul, blues, jazz and Latin with a special Cinco de Mayo emphasis. The innovative, genre-crossing guitarist uses time-honored traditional techniques to power his special high-tech instrument to also play saxophone, piano, harmonica, flute, voice and brass sounds. He’ll play music from his “Cinco de Michael” CD release and other fan favorites, including his radio hit cover of Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile.”

Powers plays as a solo act and with a band, but for this performance, he’ll be accompanied by a drummer.

Tickets are $23 and $20

Kleinbeck has tentatively scheduled other shows at the Auburn Avenue Theater for May — “tentatively” because with all the chatter in the wind about a possible fourth pandemic resurgence, there is the possible return to phase 2 of Inslee’s emergency order.

“They’re having this whole series in May, and I’m the kickoff,” Powers said Tuesday evening from his home in Seattle “The other ones are in danger of being rolled back to a phase 2 capacity. Mine will be phase 3. So, the main message should be, ‘Come and get it while it’s hot, before we roll back to phase 2, this is your chance to get out.’”

Ticket information

For a full description of all shows and to purchase tickets, call Auburn Parks, Arts & Recreation at 253-931-3043, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., or order online for print-at-home tickets at www.auburnwa.gov/arts. Maximum group size of 10 people permitted. Tickets must be purchased together to be considered a group. Pre-sale tickets will only be sold and ticket sales cut off 24 hours prior to the show. All tickets subject to a processing fee.

Under Phase 3 guidelines, here are the COVID-adapted operations that will be implemented for each performance:

• Maximum 50% capacity of the venue/space (125 is 50% for the Auburn Ave Theater)

• Groups maximum-size of 10 people are permitted, limited to two households per group.

• Tickets must be purchased together to be considered a group

• Pre-sale tickets will only be sold and ticket sales cut off 24 hours prior to the show.

• Each group must always be physically distanced six feet apart from other groups.

• All individuals (ages 5 and up) in attendance must wear a face covering.

Upcoming shows

• 2 p.m. May 8: Louie Foxx, “One Man Side Show,” $10

• 7:30 p.m. May 14, “Comedy At The Ave,” $20 and $17

• 7:30 p.m. May 22, and 2 p.m. May 23, Ted Vigil, “Tribute to John Denver,” $30 and $25

• 7:30 p.m. June 5, Jessica Lynne Witty, $23 and $20


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Local jazz guitarist Michael Powers brings his funky guitar to Auburn Avenue Theater at 7:30 p.m., May 1, for the first live performance to hit the theater's stage in more than a year. Courtesy photo, Michael Powers.

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