Theater history buffs to tour Connellsville's Porter, Scottdale's Geyer theaters this week
The Fay-West area is rich in theater history and Wednesday people from all over the world will visit these cultural gems when the Theatre Historical Society of America brings its 44th annual Conclave Theatre Tour to the area.
The THSA, founded in 1969, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating the rich history of America's historic theatres. Each year the organization engages different communities across the United States with a week-long Theatre Tour called “Conclave.”
Executive Director Richard L. Fosbrink said each year the organization visits theaters in a different part of the country.
“In the 40 years we've been planning these Theatre Tours, this will be the first time we've ever visited Pittsburgh,” Fosbrink said.
This year's tour will bring 125 attendees from six countries including the United States, Canada, England, France, Australia and New Zealand to Pennsylvania. The annual tour is arranged to give each attendee the opportunity to experience cities across America while exploring its theatres.
“We see all different kinds of theaters on the tour. We visit big grand old movie theaters as well as smaller neighborhood theaters,” Fosbrink said.
The tour, which begins Tuesday, will run through Saturday and cover approximately 30 historic theatres throughout Western Pennsylvania including four in the Fay-West area on Wednesday. On that day the participants will visit the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale, the Edwin S. Porter Theater in Connellsville and the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown, in addition to three other theaters in Oakmont, Vandergrift and Homestead.
“We are excited the Geyer has been selected as a theater to be toured. The Geyer is the second oldest theater in operation in Westmoreland County, and really is a beautiful classic opera house,” GPAC Board President Brad Geyer said.
Fosbrink, a South Connellsville native and graduate of both Connellsville Area High School and Seton Hill University, said he is looking forward to showing the group the theaters in the area where he grew up and has performed.
“I went to preschool at the community center in Connellsville and the last time I was on the stage at the Porter I was playing a frog,” he said.
He said the Porter theater is on the list for multiple reasons.
“We want to come there to support the Connellsville community as well as have our attendees see the theater,” Fosbrink said.
Connellsville Community Center Administrative Contractor Lori Kosisko said she is very excited that the THSA has chosen to tour the Porter.
“It's wonderful that our beautiful theater is getting national recognition. We are thrilled to be showcasing our treasure,” she said. “The conclave will definitely love the architecture of the theater and they will also be impressed with all of the upgrades that have been made to the lighting and sound system.”
During the group's visit to the theater, the group will hold its annual meeting and also enjoy a short reception with light refreshments with local dignitaries. The movie “The Great Train Robbery,” directed by Porter, will be shown.
“With our theatre being named the Edwin S. Porter Theatre, and since Mr. Porter was born and raised here in Connellsville, we thought it would be very appropriate to show the short film,” Kosisko said.
While at the Geyer, the group will be shown all around the building including some of the “nooks and crannies.”
“With the interesting history of the theater, it's really great to show how we have repurposed areas such as the hospitality suite,” Geyer said.
As part of the theater's 25th season, a historical retrospective video was created and Geyer said it will be shown to the group.
“It is a great way we can show the visitors who we are,” he said.
Geyer said he thinks the visitors will like the theater's charm.
“The Geyer is one of those places that gives you a nostalgic feeling. Regardless if it is your first visit or your 100th, it gives you a warm feeling of a charming little theater house,” he said.
Pittsburgh native David Newell, known for his portrayal of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood's speedy delivery man Mr. McFeely, and longtime THS member, will preside over the tour as honorary Conclave Host.
In addition to all-access tours of theatres across the region, attendees will also take in a lecture from Kevin McMahon of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and attend the Pittsburgh CLO's performance of “Footloose.” At the Warner Cascade Theatre in New Castle, attendees will bear witness to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's dedication of an official state marker commemorating the historic site of the Warner Brothers' first theater.
Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.