A new Whidbey Island theater just for youth

Executive directors Rebekka Handschke and Scot Ratzlaff dress as the princess and Shrek for their free Halloween makeup workshop.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Executive directors Rebekka Handschke and Scot Ratzlaff dress as the princess and Shrek for their free Halloween makeup workshop.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

“It’s a ‘we don’t say no’ kind of a place,” Scot Ratzlaff said to describe Oak Harbor’s new, and only, theater workshop for young people.

Operating out of a kid-friendly building on Pioneer Way, executive directors Ratzlaff and Rebekka Handschke have opened Whidbey Island Theater for Youth to all theatrical endeavors.

Programs range from acting and voice training to behind the scenes makeup, lighting, costumes and set design.

“It’s a complete creative zone. The space is converted for workshops and shows, and kids can even paint on the walls,” Ratzlaff said. “At the end, we paint it black and start all over again.”

A spacious front room is the dance and rehearsal space. Part of the room will be used as a stage area for “Project Theater,” an acting day camp with a day-end original production. In back are dressing rooms and makeup mirrors.

Many of the “Theater for Youth” programs are theme-based. Last Halloween, the owners offered a makeup workshop for “blood, guts and gore.” Dressed as an ogre and the princess (characters from the movie “Shrek”) Ratzlaff and Handschke offered face-painting to kids before they went trick-or-treating.

Ratlaff described his time with the kids over the past few months as “a blast.”

A 10-year resident of Oak Harbor, Handschke graduated with a degree in theater at Eastern Oregon University. She worked on numerous Whidbey Playhouse productions including “Annie,” “The Hobbit” and “Crazy for You.”

“I’ve been doing theater since I was knee high to a grasshopper,” Handschke said.

This spring, the couple will gear their workshops toward the musical “Grease.” Kids will practice sewing poodle skirts and local hairdresser Celle Blyther will teach 50’s style hair.

It will culminate into the workshop “Places Everyone,” a day trip to see “Grease” performed in Seattle.

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council and Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce officially welcomed the owners into the community with a ribbon cutting ceremony earlier this month.

“I’m a big advocate for the youth and this is a wonderful idea,” City Councilwoman Beth Munns said. “Something like this will give kids confidence.”

Ratzlaff also said that he is starting to see the talent of his young students. A few of the 5-year-olds are “off the book,” or have memorized their lines, by the third rehearsal.

“Our young actors aren’t just coming in here to play. There is a real result,” Ratlaff said.

Whidbey Island Theater for Youth is located at 350 SE Pioneer Way. For more information, call 675-1084 or visit

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