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By Kayla Pongrac
March 15, 2016
See this article at www.ourtownamped.com
Laura Argenbright, who served as Mountain Playhouse's director of marketing and development, has been promoted to executive director.
"For the past three years, Laura has been instrumental in growing our audience, building relationships with funders and increasing awareness about the playhouse, all of which are vital to sustaining the playhouse for the region," said the Rev. Joseph Beer, board of directors chairman. "The board of directors believes that by creating this leadership role, Laura will be in an even more effective position to positively direct the progress of the theater."
Argenbright said that her new role is full of opportunities.
"It's rewarding to be able to steer the direction of the playhouse," she said. "My vision for the Mountain Playhouse is for it to once again become the premier venue for live entertainment in the Laurel Highlands, and to play a key role in youth educational outreach programs for the performing arts, especially as arts are being cut from school curriculum.
"The Mountain Playhouse is a true cultural resource in the Laurel Highlands. We are very fortunate to have this caliber of professional theater in such a rural area, and for 77 consecutive seasons. The fact that approximately 25,000 patrons visit the theater annually, during a six-month season is phenomenal. Our 2015 economic impact study revealed that our organization and patrons together pumped more than $1.4 million into the local economy. Likewise, in 2015, approximately 4,500 students attended our children's educational programs from 11 school districts as far away as Frostburg, Maryland. For many people in our region, the Mountain Playhouse provides their first experience of a live theater production."
As executive director, Argenbright has many goals for the oldest professional resident summer theater in Pennsylvania.
"From the time that I started at the playhouse, one of my goals has been to attract a broader demographic to the theater, to let people know that our productions are fun and interesting for everyone . . . not just older people or for the wealthy," she said. "For example, a night at the playhouse makes a great date for young people, and every Wednesday evening, students tickets are only $8. We want everyone to know that they are welcome.
"I want to continue to raise awareness that we are a (member of the Actors' Equity Association), which means that we audition and hire professional actors from New York City, Pittsburgh and around the country. Our shows are produced from the ground up, with only two weeks of rehearsals. These are not shows on tour, or community theater.
The same actors you might see on Broadway are performing on the Mountain Playhouse stage. This is what makes the playhouse so unique. Finally, as a nonprofit organization, the underlying goal is always to raise funds to sustain the theater. This year we implemented our first annual campaign and my hope is to increase our contributions and number of donors to stabilize the organization well into the future."
The Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate previously worked as marketing director at Hidden Valley Resort and founding director at the Frank Lloyd Wright Duncan House at Polymath Park in Acme.
"I find that every work and life experience along the way prepares you to succeed in your next endeavor," said Argenbright, who resides in Westmont. "Having a diverse background helps me to stay calm, see the bigger picture and to be more proactive in problem solving."
Argenbright is a member of the board of directors of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, as well as chairman of the marketing committee. She is also an active member of the Arts Coalition of the Alleghenies and several other civic organizations.
She said she's passionate about theater and the arts.
"I love that I can be a part of this cultural tradition, and see the joy that our shows bring to so many people," she said. "I am also very passionate about promoting tourism in the Laurel Highlands and am happy to be leading one of Somerset County's iconic tourist attractions. And of course, one of the best parts of my job is meeting and getting to know exceptionally talented actors, musicians, choreographers and directors as well as working with Teresa Stoughton Marafino, producer and a founding family member, and others who have been dedicated to this theater since long before I arrived."
Argenbright will continue to work alongside Marafino, who mentioned how Argenbright's efforts as a Mountain Playhouse employee have helped the theater grow.
"I am excited about Laura's promotion," Marafino said. "The teamwork we've developed over the past three years has resulted in bigger and better things for the theater."
It's important to Argenbright that live theater remains "accessible."
"The Mountain Playhouse has seen many ups and downs over its 77-year run," she said. "I certainly want to build on the reputation for quality entertainment and look for innovative ways to make theater accessible and attractive for everyone."
Fortunately, things continue to look up as Argenbright and her staff prepares to kick off the 2016 season.
"I am very encouraged by the growth the Mountain Playhouse has experienced in the past few seasons (19-percent increase in ticket sales), and I'm excited to see the potential that the future holds," she said.
The theater's 2016 season opens June 15 with "The Bikinis, A New Musical Beach Party." Season subscriptions, FlexPasses, mini-subscriptions, tickets and gift certificates are available by visiting the aforementioned website or by calling 814-629-9220.
For more information about Mountain Playhouse, visit www.MountainPlayhouse.org.