‘The Other Country’ reenacts the story of Thea and Andrew Foss

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“The Other Country” is a community-based, site-specific event placing the memorable Thea Foss story squarely in its original and authentic setting. The production will take place both inside and outside the dynamic and historic Foss Waterway Seaport with five shows on Aug. 10-13 (the patron preview on Aug. 10 is sold out). This play celebrates our diverse backgrounds, the spirit of a strong female entrepreneur, and the enduring beauty and power of Puget Sound.

Spanning from 1880-1927, “The Other Country” encompasses Thea’s humble beginnings in Norway, her marriage to Andrew Foss and her family’s subsequent immigration to the United States. Once settled in Tacoma, this practical, intelligent and determined woman began a small Puget Sound boat business. Due to Thea’s tenacity and business acumen, and with the help of her husband and children, this eventually became the famous Foss Maritime Company, which continues to thrive.

The play employs a company of 20 local actors and singers that span a wide age range and come from diverse backgrounds. They are reflective of the “immigrants from many countries” referenced by Thea in her letters home. “The Other Country,” produced by Nancy Bourne Haley, will be co-directed by Marilyn Bennett and Suzy Willhoft, artistic directors of the independent theatre companies Toy Boat Theatre and Found Space Productions. Musical direction is by Debbie Birkey and costumes are by Alex Lewington.

First remembered as the character Annie Brennan in a series of stories in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1920s, Thea Foss came to America’s notice in film and TV as “Tugboat Annie” between 1930 and 1950. In 2006, local filmmakers Bourne Haley and Lucy Ostrander researched and co-produced a film, “Finding Thea,” about this remarkable woman and her Norway-to-the-Pacific-Northwest saga.

In 2009 the film was aired on Norwegian national television and caught the attention of playwright Kristin Lyhmann, who was inspired to write “Det Andre Landet” (“The Other Country”) a play that tells the story of Thea and Andrew Foss from the vantage point of their native Norway. In summer 2015, the play was produced in Foss’s homeland in southeast Norway outside Skiptvet. Bourne Haley and Foss’s great-granddaughter Leslie Foss Johnson traveled to view the production.

In the fall of 2015, News Tribune arts writer Rosemary Ponnekanti wrote about Bourne Haley’s film and trip to Norway, and suggested she contact Bennett and Willhoft, local theatre directors, about a possible production in Tacoma. Kari Nellie Groven, daughter of the playwright, and Janet Ruud of Tacoma wrote an English translation of the play from which this vignette was drawn.

“The Other Country” is made possible thanks to these funders and facilitators: Foss Waterway Seaport, Pacific Lutheran University Scandinavian Cultural Center, University of Puget Sound Theatre Department, Foss Maritime Company, Florence Kilworth Foundation, Tacoma Arts Commission, Bayview Partners, Sons of Norway Foundation, University of Washington Tacoma College of Arts and Communication, Tacoma Historical Society, various Daughters of Norway lodges, and many kind individuals.

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What: The Other Country

Where: Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock Street

When: Aug. 11, 7 p.m., Aug. 12, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Aug. 13, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $10, available online at brownpapertickets.com or, if available, at the door (cash only)

Info: www.fosswaterwayseaport.org

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