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Backstage with TAPA’s Chris & Robert

Robert Buckingham recalls the sound of the rain on the roof of his Jeep Wrangler as he arrived in Tillamook. He remembers the surrounding trees. The fresh air. An overwhelming feeling.


“I had this sense of home. I’m finally home,” Buckingham said.


His spouse, Chris Chiola, didn’t have the same initial reaction.


Chiola had accepted a position with Tillamook County as their new Environmental Program Manager. He relocated for the job from Colorado and on his first day in town it was also cold and rainy.


“I called Robert and said I wasn’t sure about this,” Chiola remembered. “He told me to give it another night. The next day I drove up to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and that [negative] feeling subsided. I thought, ‘Okay, this is it.’”


Buckingham also accepted a job with Tillamook County as an Appraiser for the Assessor’s Office.


“My mom grew up in California, so as a kid we would spend a lot of summers there,” Buckingham said. “I always knew that I wanted to live next to the ocean.”


Photo courtesy of TAPA

Not long after moving to town, a friend reached out to see if they’d be interested in joining the local theater group: Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts [TAPA].


Buckingham declined at first, but Chiola jumped at the opportunity. His acting debut was in TAPA’s production of “Proof” in 2006.


“Being on stage is such a fantastic rush,” Chiola said. “There’s nothing like when the lights are down and we’re quiet backstage; it’s just awesome. As adults, we get to play dress up.”


Buckingham went to watch the production and was convinced he also needed to be a part of TAPA.


“When I came to see the play here, I was so impressed with the level of dedication and how serious everyone took it. It was a legit play,” Buckingham said.


The following season, Buckingham joined his first TAPA production: “An adult evening of Shel Silverstein.”


Since joining nearly 18 years ago, Buckingham and Chiola have remained an integral part of TAPA: producing, directing, and acting in dozens of productions. The two have also held positions on the Board of Directors: Chiola is currently the president and Buckingham is the marketing and media chair.


“I love TAPA. I don’t know what I would do without it,” Buckingham said. “This is our creative outlet.”

Buckingham (left) and Chiola (right) in "Dial M for Murder."

This past February, the two had a chance to perform on stage together for TAPA’s production of: “Dial M for Murder.” Buckingham had dual roles: directing and acting in the role of Chief Inspector Hubbard. Chiola starred as Tony Wendice. 


“I was so pleased with how it all turned out,” Buckingham said. “It was so wonderfully written. I love England, the 50s, and it was neat to direct a time period piece.”


In fact, the production turned out so well that it became Buckingham’s all-time favorite. Mainly because of the lack of drama—pun intended.


“I couldn’t do it without such dedicated actors,” he said. “Mostly the people are what made it my favorite. Everyone got along and we all worked well together. It was just a wonderful team.”


This spring, both Chiola and Buckingham have upcoming director roles in each of their preferred genres: comedy for Chiola and something edgier for Buckingham. Chiola will be directing the sequel to last year’s popular “Four Old Broads” with “Four Old Broads on the High Seas” slated for show dates in June. Buckingham will be directing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with shows in September.


Chiola as Tony Wendice

Auditions for each show will be announced via TAPA’s social media channels and on their website.


“[If you’re new], join the crew and feel the rhythm of a production, then do some smaller parts,” Chiola said. “You get drawn into it. It’s something we get to do other than our jobs. It’s a way to be creative and contribute.”


Outside of their work at the County and TAPA, the couple enjoys spending time with their three dogs and two cats. And, catching Madonna on tour.


They recently celebrated 30 years together.


“We met at a nightclub on Sept. 11, 1993 in Fort Collins, CO,” Buckingham said.


The two met by happenchance as neither was living in the area at the time.


“We met briefly and Chris handed me his business card,” Buckingham said. “I wrote him a letter. This was before the internet or email.”


Chiola returned Buckingham’s letter with a call, and they established a life together in Colorado for several years.

Buckingham as Chief Inspector Hubbard

In 2014, the couple married shortly after the State of Oregon and Tillamook County legalized same-sex marriage.


“My mom is an Episcopal priest. We asked her to officiate for us,” Buckingham said. “We were married on my [grandmother’s] birthday. It was very special for mom.”


On the day of the wedding, 50 attendees came out to support their union—more than they were anticipating.


With both working for Tillamook County, their day jobs can sometimes cross paths.


“I’ll be out at a jobsite and I always love that when people say something about [Chiola] it’s always good. That makes me so proud of him.”


And just like their first couple days in town, Chiola and Buckingham have continued to feel at home in Tillamook.


We just love this community.”


Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts is located at 1204 Ivy Ave, Tillamook.


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