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Pennsylvania Playhouse: Driven by Passion

by Randall Forte, LV Arts Council executive director

I recently sat down with Pennsylvania Playhouse board president, Ralph Montesano to discuss the behind-the-scenes operations of this very busy community theatre. His personal involvement reflects the commitment and passion that drive the organization. Since 2002, Ralph has directed eight times, acted in twelve productions, and served on the production staff for two dozen shows. He is currently serving his second year as president of the board.

Urintown

The PA Playhouse is one of the region’s oldest and most successful arts organizations. To what do you attribute its longevity?

The Pennsylvania Playhouse has been around since more than twenty years before its incorporation in 1946. I believe the playhouse exists because of the people who are passionate about its mission. Our success is a tribute to the boards and members who have sunk their time, money, and sweat into what we call our second home. It is my opinion that the biggest formula for the success of the playhouse is the ability of anyone to walk through our doors and do whatever they might like to do—act, direct, and even administrate!

How are you able to ensure continuity and plan for the future?

One of the most outstanding attributes about the playhouse is the mix of seasoned theatre folk and progressive young people who get involved. This mix allows us to be open to new and innovative ideas, yet benefit from those who have experienced the ups and downs of running a theatre company.

I understand the PA Playhouse is almost entirely run by volunteers. How is it governed?

The playhouse is a volunteer organization with a fifteen-member board of directors. The board is made up of the executive positions of president, vice president, treasurer, recording secretary, and financial secretary; board members also serve as coordinators in the areas of education, development, production, publicity, membership, technical, front of house, outreach, and building operations. We do employ two box office personnel on an independent contract basis.

What is the production schedule for the theatre?

Our production schedule includes six regular season shows following a formula of comedy, popular musical, drama, family musical, cutting-edge musical/play, and a Christmas show. Recent additions include an Original Artists Series to highlight local playwrights and give them an opportunity to premiere their work; a Cabaret Series to bring a high-energy night of song to our stage; and One Night Only performances of local talent. We also, from time to time, add a children’s show where we can highlight our young talent. (Most of the children performing come out of our Young Actors Studio, a two-week theatre camp run in two sessions during the summer to give local youth an opportunity to learn all aspects of performance.)

What kind of growth have you seen with your audiences?

We seem to have a very loyal audience that is receptive to our choice of productions. I would say that we have seen an increase in attendance not only because of our productions, but also because the Lehigh Valley is a wonderfully theatre-savvy community. Another important draw in the Valley is the ability to highlight some of the best local talent at a reasonable price for a night out—a very important point in our struggling economy!

In your opinion, what is the most exciting opportunity coming up?

Wow…I struggle with this question because I find it exciting everyday when I sit with members of our board to look over and plan for the future of the playhouse. We are entering into a couple of projects that will enhance the space at the playhouse, including the total renovation of our greenroom rehearsal space and the replacing of our stage (both scheduled to be completed by this time next year). If I had to nail it down, I’d say the most exciting opportunity, for any member of the playhouse family, is that when we open the front doors, we never know who might be walking through— an old friend coming back to perform or view a production, or new friends, wide-eyed with talent and fresh vision.

You can find out more about the Pennsylvania Playhouse by visiting its website or by stopping by on Illicks Mill Road in Bethlehem.

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