Jennerstown playhouse notes 75th anniversary

By Ruth Rice
The Tribune-Democrat

June 24, 2014

See the full article at www.tribune-democrat.com

 

Tuesday night's 7 p.m. performance of "The Marvelous Wonderettes" marked the 75th anniversary of performances at Mountain Playhouse, Jennerstown.

The restored 1805 gristmill theater opened to the public for its first production, "High Tor," on June 24, 1939.

Dressed in 1950s dresses in pastel shades of pink, green, orange and purple and accompanied by a single guitar, the stars of the musical opened a press conference Tuesday morning with their rendition of "Mr. Sandman."

Marketing director Laura Argenbright welcomed visitors and spoke of the small, dedicated staff that has helped the playhouse stay afloat.

"At present, we're thriving," Argenbright said. "I say we're 75 years strong."

The 2014 board members were then recognized.

Officers are the Rev. Joseph Beer, chairman; Jason E. Miller, vice president; and Marcene Glover, secretary.

Other board members are Barbara Frankel, Joseph Domencic, W. Jeffrey Carey and Judith Crookston.

Executive producer Teresa Stoughton Marafino, a member of the playhouse's founding family, spoke of the playhouse's rich history.

Marafino's father, James Stoughton, was the playhouse's founder, along with his sister, Louise Stoughton Maust.

"He told my aunt 'We're going to have a theater. How much money do you have?' " Marafino said. "After finding an abandoned gristmill along Route 31 in Bedford County, my father had it moved log by log to its present site."

The only time the theater was dark was from 1943 to 1945, during World War II.

The playhouse was dubbed "Pioneer Theater of the Alleghenies" in 1949 and had its largest season in 1956, when 22 shows were produced in 26 weeks.

Celebrities who have attended productions at Mountain Playhouse include Jimmy Stewart, Gloria Swanson and Tennessee Williams, who came to see the first run of his play, "Summer & Smoke," on the summer stock circuit.

Actress Ruth Buzzi had a part in a production of "Auntie Mame" in the 1960s, before her days on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh In."

In 1997, the playhouse became a nonprofit organization to ensure its future existence.

"The theater is unique, like a summer camp," said director Chan Harris, who began acting and directing at the playhouse in 1999. "We don't have the pressure of agents and casting directors coming. We can hire who we want. It's about adventure and the journey and learning to explore. Magic can happen. We can change the world and our lives at Mountain Playhouse. It's about the process, not the product."

Harris has overseen the production of two area premieres and gotten to direct new plays through the playhouse's writing contests.

The playhouse has had a comedy playwriting contest every year since 2002 and has received entries from all over the world.

Sometimes the winner receives a professional reading and sometimes a full production.

Marafino announced this year's winner, "Hollyweird" by David Carren of Ebensburg, Texas.

Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.