Letter to the editor: students work

Paul D. Newman

Eleven Pitt-Johnstown students have spent the last year working with me on two projects for the Jennerstown Mountain Playhouse.

“Eighty Years at the Mountain Playhouse: Summer Stock Lives!” is a 100 page book, illustrated with 160 images.

 “The Show Goes On!: 80 Seasons and Counting at Jennerstown’s Mountain Playhouse” is a 15-minute documentary film with over 100 still and moving images and several interviews. 

The book and film  chronicle the history of the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown Borough, Somerset County, and the phenomenon of Summer Stock Theater.

The book project began last May.

 Last summer, student researchers senior Yami Audisio, junior Laken Burkhardt, senior Josh Calandrella and junior Erin Whyte digitized playbills, scrapbook images and photo albums at the Mountain Playhouse.

Cameron Carr dug through archives at the Somerset Historical Center, Somerset.

Last fall, the group was joined by sophomore Jonathan Van Dermark, who researched the theater founder’s private archive. Junior Kelsey Chabal also joined the team as an editor and writer. 

From December through this March, Audisio, Carr, Van Dermark and Whyte wrote historical essays, while Chabal and I edited a narrative .

The book is being printed now and is to be available for purchase in June. 

The students and I are to hold a book launch and signing party on of the Mountain Playhouse’s opening night June 18.

The film project arose from my class last fall: “Historical Documentary Film and Filmmaking.” 

Norm Ballard, Ryan Olsavsky, Cole Seaman, Van Dermark and sophomore Hastings Wagamon used the materials digitized by the book team to research, write, storyboard and edit their documentary. 

They also conducted interviews with theater staff, historians, actors and directors.

Their film will premiere at the Mountain Playhouse’s opening night, June 18, when students will sign and distribute DVD copies of their film to purchasers of the Mountain Playhouse book. 

The film will be distributed through the Mountain Playhouse website, and, for this year’s season, it will play on a loop in the theater lobby for patrons to watch before shows and during intermission.

James Stoughton constructed the theater in 1938 on the remains of a flour-making grist mill from 1805. 

It has offered seasonal entertainment, including summer stock plays and musicals, for all 80 seasons.

Summer stock referred to small theater companies, who owned their own stock of costumes and set materials. 

Such theaters provided residence for actors, directors and crew during summer performances in rural locations.

At its height, there were over 150 summer stock theaters in the Northeast of the United States, but only 18 remain open today.