By Amanda Fine
Our spotlight this month is aimed at Don Linnertz, Don Linnertz and his husband Scott Wallace are community advocates, generous donors, and passionate patrons of the arts. When they moved to the Methow Valley and became “Friends of the Merc” they knew they were in for a fun season of theater, but they had no idea how involved they would become “outside the building” working with many others to secure broad support for the arts in our community. I caught up with Don for a coffee at Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp recently to learn a bit more about his “we are all in this together” experience supporting The Merc Playhouse to be the best it can be.
What was the first show that you attended at The Merc Playhouse?
You know, I can’t remember. We moved to the valley full time in June of 2014. That was the summer of the Carlton Complex fires; shows were canceled, the doors at the Merc — like many others — were closed.
Although disappointing I’m sure, it sounded like landing in the Methow Valley in the summer of 2014 only intensified Don’s and Scott’s intentions to be active members of the community and involved wherever they could contribute. Soon Don’s “we can go farther faster together” mantra was a part of collaborative efforts across the valley.
When did you first become involved at the Merc?
We did start with season tickets and enjoyed going to every show, sitting in our reserved seats! [a practice that is no longer an option at the Merc] But I really got involved when I stepped in as the interim, and then full time, Executive Director at TwispWorks. Until I retired from the position in 2021, I loved being a part of the “XD’s”, an informal group of arts directors in the valley including the Merc’s Executive Director at the time, Missi Smith. We shared concerns about realities in the valley like housing needs, and imagined a future where we could do even more for our community if we used talent efficiently and pushed hard for collaboration. The establishment of a Creative District in Twisp was one of the outcomes that emerged from that time.
Don then told me a funny story about former Merc Board Chair and children’s show director, Jane Orme, who invited Don and Scott to an “open house” at the Merc one evening. They arrived to learn they were auditioning for a play! Don dutifully read the parts (Scott passed!) but they did not take the bait. Scott volunteered to come back to the Merc and clean up all the cobwebs he saw in the rafters that evening. To this day Don has resisted reviving his North Dakota childhood acting career (as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol in elementary school, and as Peter in a high school production of Heidi) on The Merc’s stage.
What have you enjoyed the most about your involvement with The Merc?
I love the sense of community coming together at the Merc. There are not many places you get to see people you know on stage. You witness them transform and we all break free from who we are in our everyday lives.
What do you think is unique about The Merc?
I was able to meet, and many of us know, the Merc Playhouse founders Egon (before his death) & Carolanne Steinebach, which is very special. I have fond memories of times at the Merc that are linked to non-theater events like a Valentine’s concert of the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival or a reading of The Last Salmon by author Phil Davis. I do not know other theaters that do that — that open their doors so wide. The space is well used and that definitely helps build community.
If you had a crystal ball what would you predict is in The Merc’s future? What would you hope for?
I would love to get to the point where the team at the Merc can focus all of their energy on putting on the next best play without worrying about a leaking roof or backstage plumbing. The pandemic was a shock to the collective system, but it also reminded us how important community theaters like The Merc are to all of us who call this place home and to the future of Twisp and the Methow Valley as a destination. I hope we find a shared vision and really go for it together, so we continue to have a performing arts center that serves the Creative District and each and every one of us.
If you met someone who has never supported theater or experienced live theater, what would you say to entice them or sell them on the idea?
I would invite them to a show. I would say “come in and see the magic”. You will see a broad swath of our community — we have all landed here.
Don’s answer made me think about supporting The Merc. Walking through the door is really all it takes and everyone is welcome. For live theater, the audience is as important as the actors on stage. By putting your hands together at the end of a show, or adding your energy to the room, you are part of the performance. What The Merc pulls off with the support of an army of volunteers (including the actors), a talented and dedicated skeleton team of staff, and a community that loves this spot truly is magic.
When will we next see you at the Merc?
We loved The Half-Life of Marie Curie directed by Carolanne Steinebach, and isn’t James and the Giant Peach coming right up? I heard about the play from one of our youngest community members who is in the cast. She popped her head out of her mom’s car to tell me not only about the epic giant peach, but also that she and all the other kids in the play are dead!
How can one stay away after an endorsement like that? We are looking forward to seeing Don and Scott and all of YOU at the next event at the Merc. Come out and enjoy a bit of live theater, be a part of this fun community, and help in any way you can. Every bit counts and it is all appreciated.