Playhouse 50 years old, growing even stronger

Saturday, May 28, 2011
The Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County has recognized Putnam County Playhouse for 50 years of cultural contributions to the community with a plaque on the Heritage Wall in Greencastle. Representing the Playhouse during the May 14 ceremony are (from left) Kathryn Dory, Vickie Parker, Jim Poor and Mike McClaine.

Editor's note: This is the final article in a five-part series exploring, by decade, the 50 years of Putnam County Playhouse in advance of an open house Saturday at the Hazel Day Longden Theatre. Starting at 3 p.m., the public can tour the theater and buy tickets for the 2011 season.

As we settled into the 21st century, Putnam County Playhouse met some new challenges. We continued producing our regular schedule of shows. The Youth Theatre Workshop became a permanent part of our program.

In the mid-'90s, our barn renovation had gotten rid of the posts that had obstructed the stage view of some seats. We added siding to the barn and added a cooling system that was welcomed by patrons and participants alike. An expanded shop, backstage area and costume loft were also constructed.

Now it was time for some technical expansion. We used a portable phonograph and cassette tapes for sound and music effects for many seasons. Located in the loft above the lobby with the 12-channel light board, it served its purpose, but it was woefully lacking for some productions.

With some guidance, we purchased a multi-channel soundboard. In the years since, we have added wireless microphones which we first used for our musicals and now use for all productions. We also added a computer-controlled light board that makes it much easier to build the cues for each show.

Technical wizards including Larry Sutton, Greg Stephan, Matt McClaine, Bob Hedge, and others were instrumental in helping us get these new systems up and running.

Sutton and Hedge both served several terms as President of the PCPH Board of Directors. Hedge appeared last year in a leading role in "Hello, Dolly!" and he was featured with wife Sherry in "Annie Get Your Gun." Sutton most recently appeared in a leading role in "All My Sons." Both have also directed productions at PCPH.

Popular shows during the decade have included "The Wizard of Oz," "Gypsy," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Singin' in the Rain," "Pippin" and "Nunsense."

"Singin' in the Rain" was directed by Ric McFadden. It was a workout for our new technology because it included specially produced video clips, synchronized backstage scenes, and of course, rain. It all worked! In fact, we received a telephone call from the local water company letting us know that there might be a water pipe break someplace on our property because our usage had increased so much! They were relieved to hear the water was being used for rain!

Our next challenge was more practical. Since moving to our site in 1981, the casts of our shows had been using makeup and dressing rooms in the small barn.

Even when running water (but no facilities) and a sound monitor system were added, there was still the problem of the trek to the stage in rainy weather. If inclement weather was imminent, all costumes and properties were moved into the shop area for the performance. It was not an ideal solution. Because there were usually two productions rehearsing at the same time, one show used the outdoor stage area (the wooden stage that had been constructed there was removed in the late 1990s). Of course, if it rained, rehearsal had to be canceled.

In 2007, the board acted to construct a new rehearsal center and a dressing room facility. It was ready in time for that season's opening show "Cinderella." I am still getting used to the luxury of it all! We also increased the size of the costume and property storage areas.

The pit area for the band was also moved to a balcony area. Our band had begun in the loft over the lobby. It was then moved to an area on the left side of the house. Neither situation was ideal for the musicians or the audiences. In their new dedicated space, the band is out of the audience area. Our new sound system allows most of the music to be mixed into the auditorium through speakers located above the audience.

When I think of the shows of the last few years, some include special memories. Playing Al Lewis under Jim Poor's direction in "The Sunshine Boys" was great fun. Don Collins and I enjoyed the audience reaction to the show each performance. I also loved appearing in "Arsenic and Old Lace," "To Kill A Mockingbird," and of course last season's "Never Too Late." Other personal highlights include directing "Man of La Mancha" and "On Borrowed Time," and doing choreography for "Pippin."

Of course, Putnam County Playhouse has great challenges ahead. We as a board are always looking toward the future and making plans to entertain our audiences and challenge our performers. It is a never-ending task.

I am proud to be associated with Putnam County Playhouse, and I am humbled to be a part of this -- its Golden Anniversary Season. PCPH is an all-volunteer organization. Every dollar spent for a ticket or donated during our fund drive goes directly to expenses involved with our productions and the upkeep of our property. Each person participating in our shows -- onstage and backstage -- does so for the love of theater.

Our working board helps maintain the facility, which includes cleaning up after each performance, working in the box office and parking cars for each show. Board members also take care of financial details and reports, program planning, and publicity.

I would particularly like to mention Linda Gjesvold who works tirelessly as our ticket chairperson and shop manager, and Mark Hammer who has served as our treasurer for several decades. Our current president, Michael McClaine, has worked many hours to make all the events for this special year happen.

If there were one thing I would wish for, it would be that more adults come out for our auditions. We welcome new people. There are two shows left to audition for this season. What are you waiting for? Be part of the fun! You still have the opportunity to be in "Camelot" or "Don't Drink the Water."

This afternoon (Saturday) at 3 p.m. we will be having an open house at the Hazel Day Longden Theatre. Please come out and join us, take a tour and buy a ticket for "The Music Man" (or a season ticket).

We will also be showing our new specially produced DVD, "Putnam County Playhouse: 50 Years of Entertainment," that includes programs and photos from all of our shows. You can meet all of the board members who will be glad to answer any question you might have. If you have ever participated in a show at PCPH, we would enjoy seeing you this afternoon. If you've never been out to the barn, please drop by, we're on Round Barn Road. Just drive north from Indianapolis Road and watch for the sign!

The founding board members wrote that the purpose of Putnam County Playhouse was: "To provide those in the county and the surrounding area the opportunity to participate in and enjoy live theater."

And after 50 years, it's still true -- right here in your own backyard!

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