Ron Ferrara, veteran actor and director, loves the thrill of the theater
Were it any ordinary opening night at Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont, there would be little doubt the comedy set in New York City would be embraced with laughter.
But this was the week of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We didn't know how the audience would respond during such a tragedy but our director, Ron Ferrara, was brilliant and knew exactly what to do,” recalls Pam Farneth of New Kensington, who was working with the Vandergrift resident for the first time.
“He told us we were going to open the show by having all the actors come out on stage and sing ‘Amazing Grace' and after the song we would ask to take a moment of silence for all those affected by that horrible attack.
“The audience appreciated it so much. That was the kind of man Ron was and is: always the healer and always bringing people together, the ultimate team player. I knew from that moment he would always have a special place in my heart.''
Flash forward to today and Farneth is in her 20th show — the French farce, “Boeing Boeing” at Apple Hill through Sept. 23 — directed by Ferrara, 70, one of the most respected directors and actors in Western Pennsylvania community theater.
Since making his theatrical debut in 1982 with New Kensington Civic Theatre, he has been involved in more than 120 shows as an actor and director.
His belief in the importance of community theater is so strong that he serves on the boards of three: New Kensington Civic Theatre, Apple Hill and the Theatre Factory in Trafford.
“We have many wonderful theater organizations in our area,” says Ferrara, who will direct a mystery dinner theater production Nov. 4 and 5 for New Kensington Civic Theatre.
“Ron has played a very important part at New Ken Civic Theatre. He directs every year and speaks out at different engagements and fundraisers trying to keep the arts alive in New Kensington,” says Farneth, president of the theater.
Art for everyone
Ferrara always stresses the importance of the arts, including community theater, in the lives of both young and old.
“As a director or actor, I have always felt that our mission was to leave the audience thoroughly entertained or deeply moved,” he says. “I hope that I have contributed my knowledge and time to make people aware of the talent we have in our local communities.”
He has had an ongoing life of service and contributing to communities. After deciding not to go into the priesthood or law, he found himself drawn to education. “I began a career at Apollo-Ridge High School in 1968 that lasted 31 rewarding years,” he says. “I always enjoyed interacting with students and colleagues.”
He taught French, directed school plays and musicals, coached multiple sports (varsity boys' basketball, cross country, track and girls' volleyball) and was the public address announcer for Apollo-Ridge Viking football for 33 years.
A three-year letterman as a sprinter on the Georgetown University track team, he was the first walk-on athlete there to receive a scholarship.
At Apollo-Ridge, he served as local teacher union president and was on the state legislative committee for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. After retiring, he served on the Kiski Area school board for 12 years.
“Ron possesses and displays the finer qualities of a true leader, whether he is teaching a class, conducting the business of his teacher's professional organization, presiding over a school board meeting or directing a play. He is steadfast and decisive while always remaining open minded and open to compromise,” says John Meighan of Avonmore, who served as Ferrara's principal at Apollo-Ridge High School and later as superintendent of Kiski when Ferrara was on the school board.
“He certainly made me a better leader in both of our professional associations,” Meighan says.
Long theater career
Ferrara's first theatrical role was Herbie in the musical “Gypsy” with the New Kensington Civic Theatre in 1982.
“I'll always remember the thrill of walking out onto the stage at Valley High School in front of a full house. The adrenaline rush still gets to me after all these years,” he recalls.
“I enjoy the camaraderie and teamwork developed during the rehearsal period, the excitement of opening night and the acknowledgement by the audience of a job well done,” he says of what continues to keep him enthusiastic about theater.
He cites a recent performance in a production of “Cabaret” at the Lamp Theatre, Irwin, a Split Stage production. “I was one of two cast members over the age of 35. The six weeks with these ‘kids' made me feel and think younger that I have in years,” he says.
“I truly prefer to direct as I get older but the thrill of performing will never diminish,” he adds. “After several years of several surgeries, I was so thankful to return to the stage this past year.”
A huge decline in community theater participation is evident, says Greensburg's Mike Crosby, “but you can always count on people like Ron to stay involved and help keep an important institution alive.”
He had his first audition for Ferrara 11 years ago at Apple Hill.
One of his greatest strengths, Crosby adds, is that, “Ron allows his actors and actresses great freedom in how they portray their character. It is a big reason why everyone loves working with him.”
“As an actor, you never worry about how a show will turn out when Ron is directing,” says Katherine Kerr of Beechview, an actor and vice president of Apple Hill's board of directors. “You absolutely know people will love it.”
Ferrara advises young directors to take a step onto the stage every three years and to never forget what it's like to be in the actors' shoes.
“Vision and patience are important qualities for any director,” he says. “My cast, young or old, novice or veteran, always teaches me something new.”
Acknowledging the health challenges he has faced through the years, Ferrara says, “I have always felt that after surviving the road blocks that life presents us with, I will always be grateful for family and friends who have helped me get through them. I am determined to work hard at recovery for their sake as well as mine. I have learned to cherish the time we have together.”