Foss play at Foss

The story of immigrants Thea and Andrew Foss and their maritime empire will be told on-site at Foss Waterway in Tacoma, Wash.

Three women with a connection to Thea Foss stand in front of an exhibit about the Foss barges company.

Photo: Solveig Lee
From left to right: Nancy Bourne Haley, documentarian of Finding Thea; Judith Wood, founder of Port Townsend’s Thea Foss Daughters of Norway Lodge; and Leslie Foss Johnson, Thea Foss’s great-granddaughter.

Solveig Lee
Mount Vernon, Wash.

The PLU Scandinavian Cultural Center’s 2017 Spring Banquet was a Thea Foss inspired dinner, exhibit, and vignette performance of the play, The Other Country. The play was an inspiration from the Finding Thea documentary shown on Norwegian television. Finding Thea is the work of Tacoma-area documentarians Nancy Bourne Haley and Lucy Ostrander, who released the film in the U.S. in 2006. It caught the attention of Norwegian playwright Kristin Lyhmann, the author of Det Andre Landet (The Other Country). In the summer of 2015, the play was produced, telling the story from the Norwegian perspective. Nancy Bourne Haley and Thea Foss’s great-granddaughter, Leslie Foss Johnson, traveled to Skipet, Norway, to see the original play and meet the playwright.

On return to Tacoma, two local theater directors, Marilyn Bennett and Suzy Willhoft, were contacted about producing the play in Tacoma. Language translators Kari Nelli Groven—the playwright’s daughter—and Janet Ruud of Tacoma translated the English version. The play celebrates the spirit of emigrant entrepreneurs building their maritime empire legacy.

The Fosses’ legacy lives on in their early maritime history in Puget Sound, with its beginnings on their float house, located in the Tacoma Waterway, renamed Thea Foss Waterway and Park in 1989. Thea’s hospitality was well known; the coffee pot was always on. She involved herself with their four children, the business, the community development, church, and organizations. She helped organize the Tacoma Daughters of Norway Embla Lodge in 1909 and served as its first secretary. In 2004, Judith Wood proposed the new Daughters of Norway Lodge in Port Townsend be named for this strong Norwegian woman, the matriarch of Foss Tug and Barge Company. Wood, an admirer of Thea, told her immigrant story. It impressed new members and the name was accepted by vote.

Performances of this special play are August 10-13 and feature 20 local area actors and musicians. General tickets are on sale at The performance will be held at Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock Street, Tacoma.

This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.