For the Pittsburgh Playhouse, one last curtain call
There was one last curtain call at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
After 85 years of performances, this intimate theater nestled along Craft Ave. in Oakland held its finale on June 18.
The cast of characters on this evening represented decades of actors and actresses who began their artistic careers here. They joined on the stage for last bow, some of them singing "What I did for Love," from the musical "A Chorus Line."
More than 400 guests included the talent as well as friends of the theater --teachers, directors, producers, costume designers, stage hands – you name anyone associated with putting on plays in that space and they were there. They gathered to share stories of everything from running up and down the back steps from the dressing rooms for quick costume changes to a secret hole in one of the modest dressing room walls that was plugged with a cinnamon roll and some paper towels to keep the air from coming in.
They bid farewell the only way they know how – by taking the stage dressed in everything from long dresses to suits to shorts, old and young, men and women. They sang, they laughed, they hugged and some of them cried.
Alumni, faculty, staff, performers, and anyone who enjoyed the venue throughout its eight-plus decades of existence, came to say their good-byes. Some famous, some not so famous, but here that didn't matter.
THE SHOW WILL GO ON
The best thing is this is not the end of theater arts at Point Park. A new state-of-the-art teaching and theatre facility in Downtown Pittsburgh will host its premiere performance this fall. University president Paul Hennigan greeted guests as they entered the scene shop where a painting of the playhouse and invited them to sign the large pencil portrait of the playhouse created by scenic artists Kristian Perry and M. K. Hughes, who work there. It will make its way to the new venue on Forbes Ave., Downtown Pittsburgh.
Guests were also invited to sign the blue wall in the back of the Rockwell Theatre.
They came to eat, drink and celebrate with a toast to good times, good friends and good lines inside the Rockwell Theatre, some lounging in the seats where audiences have been entertained for years to bid farewell to the Oakland residence.
The celebration culminated the essence of the playhouse properly with an open mic in the Rockwell Theatre and a memorabilia boutique inside the Rauh Theatre where many of the posters and other items from shows were available at more than reasonable prices. Many took home a keepsake. Standing nearby the Rauh, was Richard Rauh, a most beloved lover of the arts – he would later receive a standing ovation.
"I have mixed feelings," says Rauh. "I would rather it stay, but we can't do that. Change is not easy."
In the café, guests could get pictures taken in the Moxie Photo Booth. It didn't take much coaxing for these individuals to grab a few props and strike a pose.
There was a slideshow of favorite memories in the studio and dressing rooms where many a nervous actor or actress prepped for their role. It became the perfect spot for selfies where guests could sign mirrors and then bask in the glow of the bright lights.
THE AFTER PARTY.
Even when the event was over many stayed to reminisce in the seats of the theater and event mingled outside on this warm evening – both temperature and the affection of friends.
Alum Tom Rocco, a North Side native, who lives in New York City and is the recipient of a MAC Award, given to honor the achievements in cabaret, says he wouldn't have missed this evening for anything.
"I am so excited to be part of this good-bye celebration," Rocco says. "There is so much love in this building. It has provided me with such a solid foundation. You learn about hard work. and teachers instilled in us a love for our craft. You can feel it in the walls. The history comes through the floor boards. We are all part of an elite club. This building created so much art and theatrical performers."
Rocco first play at the playhouse was as King Herod in "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"My love for this place is deep," he says. "We all have an emotional connection to the Pittsburgh Playhouse."
It was definitely a sentimental feeling for Rod Allan-Lindblom artistic director.
"I am excited to move into the new place, because this place is being held together by duct tape and determination," says Allan-Lindblom. "We hope the new theater lives for another 85 years. But, it's time."
The evening was bittersweet, says Kim Martin, producing director.
"It is so exciting to be moving into the new facility, which offers so much, but saying good-bye to the playhouse has brought tears to my eyes," she says. "This place has meant so much to so many people."
People came from as far away as San Francisco, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas and South Carolina and as close as Mt. Washington.
"They came because of all this meant so much to them," Martin says. "It's a blue collar theater. We dug in and worked hard. There are people here who helped install the floor boards."
There most likely won't be another like it, says alum Tome Cousin, who has directed all over the world. He recalls running up and down the steps to the dressing rooms for those fast costume changes. The performances on stage were always fun, but those moments back stage were just as memorable, he says.
"The Playhouse is unique because of its close proximity to the audience. As a performer, you feel the emotional connection to the audience."
At the end of performances at the Playhouse Junior, cast and crew came down from the stage into the audience to meet the children and youngsters who came to see the show. That interaction was the idea of the Playhouse Junior founder the lateWilliam K Leech,, who was passionate about the arts.
The playhouse was the melting pot where men and women of all musical, theater and dance genres formed life-long friends, says alum Rayna McGrath, of Philadelphia, who is on air for QVC network, representing The Flexx shoe line made of Italian leather.
"I have met some of the most extraordinary people," she says. "It is a sad occasion, but we are staying with the times. It's special here. You can just feel it. When someone passes away you have a grave to visit but we won't have anywhere to grieve for it because it won't be here, she says. There was a lot of ugly crying. I have been fortunate to have been a professional actor because of what l learned here."
A FITTING ENDING
Allan-Lindblom addressed the crowd a half hour before closing time. He says the evening was mixed emotions of both melancholy and excitement.
"We are putting an end to this era, and celebrating the beginning of a new one," he says. "This is an historic moment of this Pittsburgh institution at Point Park. We celebrate all the lives this playhouse has touched and all the dreams this playhouse has nurtured and launched. This quote, 'Let's not judge our time at the playhouse by the number of breaths that we took. Let's judge it by the number of times the playhouse took our breath away.'"
Overheard from above "And for the final time lights and sound together…go."
The song "Time of Your Life" by Green Day played as the theater went dark.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or email@example.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.