Fort Worden, Upstage operator team up for Saturday concert; partnership aims at future endeavors

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — An alliance between the Fort Worden Public Development Authority and the operator of the Upstage could transform the park into a major regional entertainment center, according to the partners.

The new partnership is putting on the first of what is expected to be a series of shows with an appearance Saturday by singer Maria Muldaur in the USO building on the Fort Worden campus.

The new agreement will complement rather than compete with offerings from Centrum, the nonprofit arts organization that has operated out of the park since 1973.

“The new operating model at Fort Worden includes a shared desire among all fifteen program partners to drive more visitors to the park,” said Centrum Executive Director Rob Birman.

“Centrum’s model is based on the concept of residential multi-generational workshops in a wide array of arts disciplines, so these presentations are truly different from what Centrum promotes.”

“Our mission is education, and everything we present is a celebration of that. We are not a performance production company,” added Acoustic Blues Festival Program Manager Mary Hilts.

The show’s promoter is Mark Cole, who ran the Upstage Restaurant and Theatre for 15 years before closing due to a landlord-tenant dispute in June 2013.

Since that time, Cole has promoted shows at three local venues, but due to the “challenges” of those spaces, he has not been able to find a permanent place to present the acts he has worked with through the years.

“The Upstage is back up,” said PDA Executive Director Dave Robison.

“It was always one of my favorite places to hang out downtown, and I was devastated when it closed.

“But the Fort now offers a perfect venue for what Mark has been doing for decades, with the potential to create a place where people can come out and enjoy a musical performance, a play or a comedy act, and also enjoy a great dinner and have a place to stay.”

Robison said that he’d like to rebrand the USO as “The Officer’s Club,” although that decision isn’t final.

He said Cole’s contacts can be used to draw talent for that venue, which holds around 200 people, along with the 300-seat Wheeler Theater and McCurdy Pavilion, which seats 1,000.

“What we are trying to do is have a series of venues that create a critical mass or a critical draw throughout the course of the year,” Robison said.

“We are beginning to fill the niche and need for the larger community.”

And it could be a full-time job for Cole, who hasn’t had a regular gig since the Upstage closed.

The Upstage, located in the alley at the end of Tyler St., became a local favorite.

The official capacity was 160 people, but there were only 110 seats that had an actual line of sight, and the bathrooms were accessible only by a steep staircase.

“It’s amazing that we were open 15 years and no one came tumbling down those stairs,” Cole said.

The new space, which was constructed in 1941 as a recreation area for enlisted men, significantly increases the capacity of the Upstage from 110 to about 200 and the square footage from 2,400 to 5,400.

The new space is a single room in two sections with a large stage in one corner, which can be modified for each occasion, Cole said.

Portions can be closed off to make shows more intimate or opened up for a rowdy rock band.

And, he added, the restrooms are easy to reach.

For Muldaur’s performance, a portion of the floor will be set aside for tables where a four-course gourmet dinner — prepared by the PDA’s new food service component — will be served.

Due to the lack of an onsite kitchen at the USO, the menu options will be limited but will be tailored to the event, according to Robison.

For Muldaur, who has invented the “Bluesiana” tag for her music, the menu has a Cajun flair and will feature squash bisque, cheese grits with barbecue shrimp and slaw, seared flank steak with potato croquet and creme brulee.

Muldaur has ties to Port Townsend, having recorded an album there in 2009 and headlined the Acoustic Blues Festival this year.

She was also a frequent performer at the Upstage.

Reservations for Saturday’s show are required for preferred seating, which includes dinner and concert for $55 per person, taxes and gratuities included.

A limited number of general admission concert-only tickets are available for $25 per person.

Tickets are available by calling (360) 385-2216, through the Fort at or from Brown Paper Tickets at

Those attending the concert can get a 20 percent lodging discount by calling (360) 344-4400.


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: September 28. 2014 6:52PM
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