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Howard Bickle, Jr.
New theater hopes to ‘Pack’ the house posted on 06/02/2017

Howard Bickle, Jr.’s theatrical journey started in Sandy. His earliest endeavors came at Sandy High School, where his interest was fueled when Chris Harris became the drama teacher.

“I can’t say enough about how important these high school teachers are; (Chris Harris) inspired his students to play and create,” said Bickle, who now lives in Welches. “The last time I felt like throwing up before audition was in high school.”

After graduating in 1986, Bickle launched into his career, studying at the United States International University in San Diego (which Bickle described as the “college version of Fame”) and the University of Minnesota before working in theaters as an actor and director, including the Guthrie in Minneapolis and the La Jolla Playhouse.

And now his journey brings him back to where it all started, with Bickle returning to his roots and his family, including 15 nieces and nephews. This month, his latest theatrical endeavor, the Wolf Pack Theater in Sandy, will offer its inaugural production, “Chapter Two,” by Neil Simon.

Bickle sees potential for the new theater in the area, as he reflected on the number of years he spent in Ashland and witnessed firsthand the effect seven theater venues can have on a community. He also noted that he doesn’t see the new theater as competing with established theaters in the area, including Sandy Actors Theatre and Nutz-n-Boltz Theater Company in Boring, but that more theaters can help support each other, particularly by fostering the artistic community of actors, directors, designers and more.

“More theater is actually better for the existing theaters,” he said.

Bickle plans on utilizing the people he’s met through the years, including graduates of SHS who have gone on to successful theatrical careers, Broadway professionals and other actors based around Portland who have appeared on television shows such as “Grimm” and “Leverage.”

The theater, located at 39570 Pioneer Blvd. on the east end of Sandy’s business district, is the smallest house Bickle has worked in, with a capacity of 49 seats. He noted that the intimate space is more like a film or TV studio, and the actors will have to take that into account for their performances.

“Here, honesty in the performances is so important,” Bickle said. “There is no hiding anywhere.”

He chose “Chapter Two” because of the parallels to his own life, as the show deals with the loss of a loved one. In the play, George Schneider, a recent widower, starts dating but ends up with bad matches until he finds the Jennie Malone.

“I immediately identify with it,” Bickle said. “If we’re focusing on honesty, the best art needs vulnerability and personal connections.”

Bickle, who is directing and playing the role of George, noted the play has the expected comedy and precision timing that Neil Simon is known for, but it also has some sensitive and dramatic moments along with “very relatable characters.”

“He’s much deeper than I had anticipated,” he said. “I think that’s what people will recognize with this show.”

Bickle is also utilizing his large family as a resource for the show, including his brother, Jason, serving as the master carpenter, his dad as the house manager and his mom as a seamstress.

And while Bickle is still honing the upcoming season for his fledgling theater, he hopes to include “Sylvia,” by A.R. Gurney and “The Weir,” by Conor McPherson.

And with all the support he’s received so far, Bickle has a good feeling about the latest chapter in his theatrical, and life’s, journey.

“We’ve got the right energy, so to speak, to make it work,” he said.

The Wolf Pack Theater presents “Chapter Two,” by Neil Simon, from Thursday, June 1 through Sunday, July 2, at 39570 Pioneer Blvd. in Sandy. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $18 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. For more information, visit www.wolfpacktheater.com or call 541-722-2667.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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