Actresses from The Zephyr Theatre — Angela Walberg, right, portraying the Queen of Hearts, and Sarah Justad as a living statue — added whimsy to the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Gala and Community Award Celebration. (Submitted photo)

The Zephyr Theatre was honored as nonprofit of the Year during the fifth Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Gala and Community Award Celebration May 20.

Nominations in nine categories were made by community members, and this year’s winners were selected by a panel of last year’s winners. Theatre staff accepted a trophy during the in-person event.

The theatre was in good company. The other 2021 winners were Judd Orff, Chamber Ambassador of the Year; Sara Jespersen, Community Volunteer of the Year; Chris Otto, Educator of the Year; Tim Bell, Hero of the Year; Water Street Inn, Large Business of the Year; Manger Restaurant & Wine Bar, Small Business of the Year; The Daily Grind Espresso Bar, Vibrancy Award; William Raymond, Youth Visionary Award.

The nonprofit award is an important acknowledgement for The Zephyr Theatre, Calyssa Hall, The Zephyr’s executive director said.

“We have worked really hard over the past three years to be a valuable community asset,” said Hall said. “It is rewarding to be recognized for the way we help build community.”

The Zephyr was a very visible community asset during the past several months, when COVID-19 restrictions limited or closed many businesses. The theatre’s ambitious Ice Palace Maze attracted thousands of visitors to town in January and February.

“I think we brought a lot of publicity and people to Stillwater,” Hall said.

Even during the chamber’s gala, The Zephyr’s contribution was obvious. Much of the lively entertainment was provided by the theatre. The gala theme was the Mad Hatter’s Ball, and performers included the Queen of Hearts, who sang; Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, who sold raffle tickets; and a live tea table, whose dress held tea cups and donated gift cards.

Less visible but equally important to the community are the partnerships the theatre has consistently built with other local businesses, nonprofits and area schools, Hall said.

For instance, the theatre is working hand in hand with Valley Friendship Club, 7 Vines Vineyard, Lift Bridge Brewing Company and Brown’s Creek Trail Association. The Zephyr has also sent its theatre professionals to 11 area elementary schools to teach singing, dancing, and acting.

“We are so grateful the chamber and others believed in us right from the beginning,” Hall said. “Now, this award is an acknowledgement that our efforts in the community are noticed and appreciated.”

New date for ‘New Neighborhood’

Calling all amateur sleuths. For some interactive at-home fun, Zoom into “New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs,” a Clue-like murder-mystery production hosted by The Zephyr Theatre in partnership with StoryArk.

The new date is June 27.

The murder-lite script, more humorous than gritty, focuses on a neighborhood get-together of new residents. The one-hour production stars six actors, but thanks to the interactive magic of Zoom, all audience members will also be party guests and then detectives. The audience will get to grill suspicious characters in real-time and chat among themselves in breakout rooms.

These gumshoe wannabes will have other hints at hand, too. Each ticket holder will receive a box of clues and a cocktail kit to open and puzzle over during the live event.

“New Neighborhood: Welcome to Running Springs” will be aired at 3 p.m. June 27. Tickets, which will include Zoom access and a box of clues, are $75 per household computer. Deadline for ticket sales is midnight June 23. To order tickets, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.

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