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Theater enthusiasts enjoy visit to historic Porter Theater

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 6:18 p.m.
Austin Bachand | Tribune-Review News Service
Members of The Theatre Historical Society of America sit in the Edwin Porter Theater in Connellsville on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 for their annual membership meeting. The meeting was a part of a Conclave Theatre Tour, where they visit historical theaters throughout the area.
Austin Bachand | Tribune-Review News Service
Tyler Handford, Geyer Performing Arts Center Theater manager, showcases some antique theater equipment to members of the Theatre Historical Society of America during its Conclave Theatre Tour June 25. More than 100 members of The Theatre Historical Society attended even, which had them touring Pennsylvania’s historical theaters.

More than 120 theater enthusiasts from six different countries visited Connellsville's Edwin Porter Theater on Wednesday afternoon, after making a stop at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale.

The Theatre Historical Society of America's 44th annual Conclave Theatre Tour, which is appropriately named the Steel City Conclave, marks the first visit by the group to the Pittsburgh region's small-town theaters and grand city theaters.

Tyler Handford, Geyer's theater manager, showed those visiting, items that have been located in the theater for many years, including the original pieces from the theater's projector when the theater showed movies beginning in 1959; tree flats from the 1900s when the theater was built; and photographs from shows taken during the years since the theater reopened in 1987 after sitting dormant for 16 years.

Following its stop in Scottdale, the group headed to Connellsville where it held its annual meeting at the Porter Theater after a quick tour and refreshments.

Connellsville City Councilman Gregory Ritch, who is also the director of the Connellsville Community Center where the theater is housed, welcomed the group to the century-old building.

“We are thrilled that you are here today,” Ritch said and pointed out the theater's recent renovations as well as the original floor and seats.

Ritch and the staff at the center planned for the group to watch “The Great Train Robbery” directed by the theater's namesake and Connellsville native, Edwin Porter, but the conclave was running behind schedule and didn't get a chance to watch the film.

“The theaters have been great so far,” said Richard L. Fosbrink, the society's executive director, and a Connellsville native. “I think everyone is enjoying their week and are surprised with the Pittsburgh area.”

Craig Morrison, society president, said he found an interesting connection between the culture of theaters and the corporate industrial figures like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie in the Pittsburgh area.

“I don't think it's happened anywhere else but here,” Morrison said. “These small, working town theaters were built to entertain the working class, and they still do.”

One member of the society who was influenced by the Pittsburgh theaters is David Newell of Pittsburgh.

“My grandfather used to take me to theaters in downtown Pittsburgh,” Newell said. He has been fascinated by the preservation of theaters and how the people in the community worked hard to save and maintain their theaters.

Newell said the trips to the theater with his grandfather lead him to attend the Pittsburgh Playhouse School of the Theater and the University of Pittsburgh, where he went into acting which eventually lead him to the role for which he's most recognized, Mr. McFeely on the show “Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.”

Returning to his own neighborhood, Fosbrink said the last time he was in the Porter Theater was when he was graduating from pre-school in 1980.

“It's very nice to be back home and to show off the area to everyone,” Fosbrink said.

The group also visited the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown and the Palace Theater in Greensburg on Wednesday.

For more information on the Theatre Historical Society of America's Steel City Conclave and the society itself and become a member, visit www.historictheatres.org

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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