Polaris: Backstage Alley gives it life despite reopening delays

Rising costs and increased grant competitiveness may keep the curtain closed on events inside downtown Port Orchard’s historic theater throughout its centennial year, but with much optimism for the century beyond, owners still believe the show can and must go on.

Not many have seen the interior of the Polaris Theater – formerly the Dragonfly Cinema among several other iterations- since it closed in 2019 and was sold in 2021 to Brigadoon Ventures LLC. Even so, one of the owners, Joshua Johnson, believes the theater is more alive than it has been in years.

“The momentum just keeps building, both for the love of the space and the desire to see it open again,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see everybody continue to rally, and that’s really made manifest with the events that we’ve held.”

The ownership group made up of Johnson, Sarah Johnson, Coreen Haydock and Steve Sego has seen its biggest successes outside the building, integrating itself into community events with a revamped outdoor gathering and performance space coined The Backstage Alley. The alley improvements received funding boosts from the Port Orchard and South Kitsap Rotaries in 2022, and it was a key addition to many 2023 downtown seasonal celebrations.

Many crowded the alley in October for a Boo Bash stop, and more held candles and sang in unison two months later in the days before Christmas. With a full slate of spring and summertime events on the schedule for the alley this year, Johnson knows Polaris is becoming a name to remember throughout South Kitsap.

“This is the summer that we’re coming out on making good on the promise of Backstage Alley and making good on the investment that people have given to get that space online,” he said.

He also knows the wait has been tough for those eager to regain a local source of movie entertainment. The closure of Port Orchard’s Regal South Sound in early 2023 has left the city with no local or commercial movie theater for over a year. On the performance side of theater, the Western Washington Center for the Arts is downsizing in preparation of its summer location move.

Johnson could not say what the future of local theaters looks like, but his belief remains solid in a place away from cellular distractions and TV and movie streaming among other benefits. “People in SK, we need a space like this. I believe that people won’t always be addicted to their cell phones, and theater has been foundational in civilization.”

As to why the reopening timeline continues to grow, the answer lies in finances. Costs everywhere are up, and with the added need to obtain outside-sourced funding to keep projects moving forward, the Polaris Theater has found itself taking the backseat to other grant applicants.

“Several have reached out to me and have taken it upon themselves, instead of just sending me the perfunctory email, call me and explain,” he said. “The need for things that are really pressing societal needs like food and security, suicide prevention and homelessness are all huge needs, and of course they are.”

At the same time, the cost to renovate the Polaris has grown to a little over $1.5 million, higher than the original ballpark budget of around $1 million.

The biggest costs are to improve the space and increase its longevity, something Johnson said is impossible to cheap out on. An HVAC unit, labor costs, renovating the notoriously closet-sized bathrooms and the rest of the work on the single-screen venue add up over time.

Johnson believes the venue could reopen in 2025 but has been proud of everything accomplished thus far. His message to the community: “We are open. We are out there, just not quite done yet.”