‘Backstage Debut’: Ribbon-cutting ceremony held at Morton’s Roxy Theater to unveil new expansion


East Lewis County’s Roxy Theater in Morton celebrated the completion of its new backstage area with a “Backstage Debut” ribbon-cutting ceremony organized by the Fire Mountain Arts Council.

More than 60 people attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

Roxy’s new backstage area includes American with Disabilities Act-compliant entrances and exits, energy and HVAC upgrades for the building and renovated roofing, along with a large dressing and makeup room for actors.

Along with hosting live theater productions, the Roxy Theater also has weekly movie screenings and hosts art galleries and a children’s theater program.

Fire Mountain Arts Council President Jessica Scogin started off the ribbon-cutting ceremony explaining the council’s mission.

A local nonprofit focused on enriching the community through the arts, the Fire Mountain Arts Council oversees not only the Roxy Theater, but the neighboring BCJ Gallery and Tiller Arts and Events Center as well.

Scogin moved to Morton 10 years ago with her husband and five of her eight children and immediately recognized the importance of the arts in bringing the community together, and the Roxy Theater.

“The children and adults who participate in productions have been touched in positive ways in their lives,” Scogin said. “Children gain skills for life and self-worth. Adults find a place to use their talents and a part of themselves in ways they never even thought of.”

Fred Schwindt, treasurer for the Fire Mountain Arts Council, explained the idea of the Roxy as it is now was hatched in 1998 after a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Morton High School.

“Working around the high school schedule just seemed to be getting worse as the high school got busier and busier … One day I had the idea, ‘let’s buy the Roxy and have our own theater,” Schwindt said.

The Fire Mountain Arts Council was formed in 2003 and purchased the Roxy Theater shortly after. Needless to say, it needed a lot of work.

“With the help of thousands of hours of community volunteers, we got this place demolished and remodeled,” Schwindt added.

Unfortunately, once work was completed in 2006, they discovered the new HVAC system installed in the theater created over 20 leaks in the roof, which they spent years trying to fix.

“We planned to do phase two, which you’ll see later today, right away. But economic circumstances in 2006 were made worse by the Great Recession of 2008,” said Schwindt.

When COVID-19 forced the Roxy to close its doors, the Fire Mountain Arts Council decided to take advantage of that time to not only fix the roof, but expand the theater’s backstage area.

Fire Mountain Arts Council Director April Doolittle then began applying for grants and other funding in 2020.

Doolittle was successful in finding funding, including from Lewis County, the Washington state Legislature and the federal level, but those weren’t the only funding sources.

“It is the many dedicated patrons, members, volunteers, donors, community partners, grant organizations and seasoned business sponsors who keep the lights on every day and make all this possible,” Doolittle said. “The live performances, the movies, the art gallery, the on-stage youth program, without you, it couldn’t happen.”

Doolittle then thanked TransAlta, Hampton Lumber and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

She also thanked Lewis County Commissioners Scott Brummer and Lindsey Pollock, along with former Lewis County Commissioner Lee Grose, who helped the Fire Mountain Arts Council get access to American Rescue Plan Act funding for the Roxy.

Additionally, state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, and state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, were instrumental in helping secure funding from Washington’s Building for the Arts program. 

“We raised just over a million dollars, and guess what the project is costing? A million dollars, so it’s all coming out just fine,” Doolittle said.

With the new backstage debut completed and Roxy’s renovations unveiled, Roxy Theater is now preparing to host its summer production, “The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” with shows scheduled from Aug. 1 to Aug. 10 and tickets going on sale soon.

Currently, “One Life” with Anthony Hopkins is the film being screened at the Roxy Theater, with 7 p.m. shows scheduled for Saturday, June 22, and Monday, June 24. Tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, veterans and students, and all tickets are $1 off on Monday.

The Roxy Theater is located at 233 Main Ave. in downtown Morton.

For more information, follow the Roxy Theater on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MortonRoxyTheater or visit https://mortonroxy.org/

To learn more about the Fire Mountain Arts Council, visit https://firemac.org/