SEAVIEW - Squeezed and sprawled around the fireside room, just over 30 people found their seats in varying fashions - a folding chair here, a rocker there, a loveseat or couch. Upstairs, the performers began to warm up, doing improvisational rap and throwing out the names of characters, to which they all responded in hilarious, melodramatic fashion. As the show began there was no curtain to raise or colored lights to turn on, only the imagination of those 30 people and the performance of the actors to guide them along the way.

Thus began the Sou'Wester Lodge's first "chamber theater" event of the new year. It is one of the "Erratic Cultural Happenings" hosted by owners Len and Miriam Atkins throughout the year.

"One of the pleasures about this is that it is totally, 100 percent removed from the hurley burley of the commercial world," said Atkins of the events.

Those who came out Saturday night had the pleasure of watching a troupe of eight student actors from Western Washington University perform a series of short plays, usually around 10 minutes in length.

"I could use a good laugh today," said one man in the audience prior to the start, and a good laugh he got during some of the plays. The comical tale of a girl who had her only pair of scissors taken as a child and how it affected her as an adult was one. Another featured the existential thoughts (or lack thereof) of goldfish in a bowl. Others were more serious or thought provoking in nature. The troupe is touring with the material as a way of raising money for a trip to England in the fall.

In introducing the performers, Atkins, who has owned and operated the hotel for almost 30 years, was sure to remind the audience to put some money in the hat on the way out the door. In fact, he made sure to mention it a number of times throughout the evening.

As always, the evening was free of charge. Atkins, who speaks with a gentle English accent, has long thought that art and culture are something that should be available to everyone.

"We just felt that it would be a contradiction in terms if we were to provide cultural facilties which are generally the expression of the finest aspects of the culture in which we live, and then excluded people for financial reasons," Atkins said. "It's a pleasaure to escape the artificiality of much of the commercial world."

Over the years, the hotel has regularly played host to other performers, whether they be actors, artists or musicians. They also regularly hold what they like to call "T'ink Tanks," not quite a think tank, as Atkins says, to discuss all manner of topics with others from the community. While the Peninsula does not have an art museum, places like the Sou'Wester have become a surrogate of sorts in promoting artistic endeavors.

The lodge, which was built in 1892, radiates its artisitc past and present. The walls of the hotel display only art that was made by artists who have stayed at the lodge. The fireside room, which also doubles as a library of sorts, features shelves of books and music created by guests.

Those who came were lucky to get in, as seating (and space) is limited. In fact for the final performance of the night the actors had to ask the audience to scoot back a foot or two. Earlier in the week Atkins had been concerned that only a handful of people called to reserve a seat. But by Saturday night the line outside the office door was so long that he had to unfortunately turn some people away.

For those who could not make last Saturday's performance, never fear, it is without a doubt that Atkins is busy cooking up another artistic "happening" soon.

For more information on future events, call 642-2542, or sign up for the Sou'westering newsletter at: souwester@willapabay.org

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