Connellsville's Porter Theater renovations take center stage

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Upgrades are continuing at Edwin S. Porter Theater and Performing Arts Center at the Connellsville Community Center.

Councilman Gregory Ritch said renovations are progressing quickly.

Students and instructors from Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center and volunteers are working to prepare the theater for a performance.

On Thursday, they were working on upgrading the sound system and working on the lighting.

Work on rebuilding the stage is nearly completed, with some baseboard work yet to be finished and a coat of paint to be applied.

The stage work began in May, said Bill Colvin, a retired teacher who worked behind the scenes for productions at Connellsville Area High School during his career.

Colvin said the old stage floor was rough and rippled. He and Gary Barker worked on the reconstruction of the stage, with help from Ritch.

“So, we decided to take the floor up, and we figured there would just be joists across,” said Colvin. “Then we would just take 2-by-4s and put them alongside the joists and make them level, then put the plywood down and we'd be finished. What we discovered, when we took it up, the floor itself was shimmed with concrete and pieces of wood. So we had to clear that all up.”

Colvin said there were pipes underneath the stage to carry a natural gas line and an intercom system. The gas line was non-functional, and the intercom system was not needed.

“We laid down 2-by-4s all the way across and out beyond the stage,” Colvin said. “And the floor was not level at all.”

Colvin said they discovered footprints from the workers who poured the concrete in 1916.

“Every two feet then back, 24 feet, we had to individually glue and shim to make sure it was level,” said Colvin.

He said work was completed by the end of August. The need to custom-fit the pieces extended the deadline.

Afterward, they straightened the front of the stage floor and rebuilt the steps to it.

Next, the stage will be painted with the proper paint, which will prevent glare while preserving the new wood.

The first production to use the new stage, “Broadway … Recently!,” will be held Oct. 3-6. The show will feature music from such hits “Hairspray,” “Rent,” “Footloose,” “Les Miserables,” “Legally Blonde,” “Wedding Singer” and “Wicked.”

John Hamman, electronics technology teacher at Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center, and president of the board of the Porter Theater, said films will be shown as well as stage productions. He pointed to the digital projector hung from the front of the balcony that will handle modern media.

Hamman and his students were correcting bugs in the sound system on Thursday. He said sound will improve in the future, but not in time for the first October show.

“The acoustics in here are (not so good,)” said Hamman. “So we have to try to tamper that (sound) down. Carpeting will help.

“That should be installed in the next two or three weeks, I hope,” he said. “Unfortunately, that will be after the “Broadway … Recently” show.”

Rigging to move the stage curtains, lighting and hanging scenery still must be done, Colvin said. The HVAC in the building is now zoned so that the heat or air conditioning does not have to be operating in the theater if it is empty.

Colvin said the theater is looking for backers in the community to help with the costs for the items that are still necessary to complete the refurbishment. There will be no cost for labor because the staff is all volunteer.

All of the efforts are for the community.

“In the theater, it's always a busy place,” said Hamman, speaking in the middle of the theater stage as students worked around him. “We want community support. We want people in those seats. And we want to give them a good show.”

The Porter Theater is gaining fame.

In June 2014, Colvin said the Theater Historical Society of America will hold its international convention in Pittsburgh. Meetings will be held at Porter Theater.

Vince Speer, who teaches electrical occupations, said more students are interested in taking courses at the career center. He attributed part of the growing interest because of their parents' jobs.

Senior Maleki Stutler, 17, has a father who lived in Germany; her mother is Irish. Stutler was born in Berlin in 1996. He came to the United States when he was 2. He went back to Germany in his fifth-grade year and came back the summer before his seventh-grade year.

“Of course, I enjoy electrical work to the fullest extent of enjoyment,” said Stutler. “Honestly, I wouldn't do any other work except maybe HVAC.”

Senior Brandon Morris, 17, said he probably would go to a college.

Speer said students get a full range of courses in school that would keep them academically eligible for college.

A good trade might provide them with a good living, with electricians making a comfortable hourly rate.

Juniors Tommy Selinger, 16, and Kali Henry, 17, are in the electronics program.

Henry said she became interested because her mother works at Westinghouse Electric, and she is interested in working there, also.

Selinger said he is intrigued because of his interest in recorded music.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3538.

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