Born into a family of orchardists in Wenatchee, the “Apple Capital of the World,” Paul Atwood’s future in agriculture was practically a given from birth. As a high school senior with every intention to continue down the fruit-lined career path of his parents, Paul’s first audition for a musical was the result of a classmate’s playful dare. Despite no prior performing experience, Paul ’91 not only made the cast of the high school’s big autumn production, he landed the lead role.
With one foot planted on soil and another on stage, Paul ultimately made the switch to a performing arts degree after taking a handful of agriculture classes as a WSU freshman. Unbeknownst to him, these seemingly opposite paths would converge to form the deep connections of Paul and his future wife Kelly to north central Washington.
Another WSU student unsure about the future, Kelly Ginger ’91, also decided to study performing arts midway through freshman year after some convincing from a vocal teacher. Recalling fondly her high school theater days in Hillsboro, Oregon, Kelly was sold. “I just wanted to get involved because I know that with theater, there’s always a home for you,” she says. As luck would have it, Paul and Kelly’s courses collided when they codirected Godspell in their senior year. Less than 12 months later, the two were graduated, married, and living in Wenatchee—working both on the stage and in the orchard.
Around the same time, the couple had another trajectory-altering coincidence. Sherry Schreck ’68 was enthralled upon catching a glimpse of the Atwoods performing together on stage. “I didn’t know who it was, but there was this riotous person playing the trombone, and she was just hilarious!” Schreck says. “And that was my first acquaintance with Kelly.” What transpired marked a fork in the road for not only Schreck and the Atwoods, but for performing arts throughout Central Washington.
Beginning as an East Wenatchee high school drama and debate teacher for 15 years, Schreck laid the foundation for performing arts in the area. Perhaps most notably was her brainchild, Short Shakespeareans, which featured Schreck’s own adaptations of Shakespeare works as told by thespians ages 4 to 15. After writing and directing the local favorite for more than 30 years, however, Schreck sought to retire. Paul and Kelly, who have performed, directed, and produced in excess of 70 local productions like Guys and Dolls and Spamalot, were natural fits to carry on Schreck’s legacy. “They are the all-around theater people,” Schreck says. “They’re dynamos.”
With the dynamic directing-producing-choreographing-set-and-costume-designing duo now at the helm, the Atwoods have carried the Short Shakespeareans banner for nearly five years. Kelly’s extensive background in vocals and design provides a fresh perspective on Schreck’s original winning formula. “She has a little bit of a different slant. The interjection of music, the glorious costuming, all of it,” Schreck says. “I think it’s very rare that a director does the costuming, too, but she’s an expert at that, so it makes for a very spectacle-like production.”
By the same token, Paul’s exuberant style brings a witty humor to the table, affording Short Shakes a style uniquely, recognizably, their own. The two have adopted the mantra of a WSU mentor they shared with Schreck, Paul Wadleigh, who continuously urged: “Louder! Faster! Funnier!” The attitude is evident in Paul and Kelly’s lively shows, which are punctuated by a vibrant humor and good-natured sarcasm. “Usually we gravitate toward the musical comedies,” Paul explains, including modern favorites like The Wedding Singer and Hairspray. “Because sometimes I think you get your point across even more when people laugh at the situation.”
Paul and Kelly share a deep appreciation for the transformative power of theater and a profound respect for the legacy one person can leave, which has committed them to continuing the work of predecessors like Sherry Schreck. Her endless affinity for theater has given Wenatchee-ites decades of entertainment rivalling that of larger cities. What’s more, it provided a basis for the Atwoods to impress their signature style on the next generation.
“Not only are you helping nurture students’ love of the arts, but it’s an impact on the community as well,” Kelly says. “A community that supports their arts thrives. It definitely thrives.”