The Granddaddy of Them All
LITTLE LAKE THEATER COMPANY
Little Lake Theatre is located on the same Canonsburg property that Will Disney originally leased. Although rehearsals are still held in the barn, Little Lake added a separate theater in 1952. These days, Will’s daughter, Sunny Disney Fitchett, and her husband, Rob, of Mapleton Avenue are artistic and managing director respectively.
“We are a semi-professional theater company,” says Rob. “A community theater but with professional aspirations and sensibilities.”
Little Lake has the largest schedule of all the South Hills groups—16 shows between its main stage, children’s shows and family matinees. The season runs May to December, and this summer’s main stage productions include And a Nightingale Sang, Talking Pictures and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Tickets are $18-20.
The cozy theater-in-the-round makes audiences feel a part of the scenes. The actors are all volunteers and most come to Little Lake with experience. Acting veteran and board member Paul Laughlin of Washington Road, a lawyer, describes the actors as “hard-working and very, very professional in everything but pay.”
According to Sunny, Little Lake’s logo—Shakespeare wearing green tennis shoes—aptly sums up their company: “We honor theater, honor the work, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
SOUTH PARK THEATER
One of the things that makes South Park Theatre a summer treat is its setting. Located in the midst of South Park adjacent to a beautiful garden, this theater company has been entertaining audiences since 1995. Their season runs April to October with eight main stage shows—typically three musicals and a combination of mysteries, dramas and comedies.
“I try to mix it up,” says executive director Kathleen Caliendo. “My mission is to entertain. I probably read 150 plays; I keep a notebook of things that might work for us.”
In addition to choosing high-quality scripts, South Park’s directors work to select the best actors. South Park Theatre, “attracts a lot of really talented artists,” says Director Bob Scott of Gilkeson Road. “It’s more professional than your typical community theater.”
South Park is one of the few companies that pays the actors, and Caliendo says she hires as many as possible. “I try not to double cast,” she says. “There’s a lot of talent here in Pittsburgh.”
The 136-seat theater is intimate, making the actors accessible to the audience. This year’s summer line up includes The Last Romance, The Bikinis, Shooting Star and Social Security. In addition to main stage productions, South Park also has a Children’s Theater featuring four shows on the ample outdoor stage. Main stage productions cost $12 -$15; children’s shows are just $2 with 25 cent concessions. That means that a family of four can see a show and get a snack at intermission for a total of $10 says Caliendo, making it one of the best entertainment bargains in town.
THROUGHLINE THEATER COMPANY
Throughline Theatre Company is the newest troupe in the South Hills. It was founded in 2009 by seven 30-somethings, most of whom were theater majors at Catawba College in North Carolina. Their impact was immediate; Pittsburgh City Council recognized Throughline Theatre Company in 2011 for its contribution to the arts in Pittsburgh.
Receiving that award was an honor, says artistic director Liam Macik, a Lebo grad. “A great reward for what we’d done and encouragement for what we hope to do.” Throughline offers four plays a year: one classic (more than 100 years old), one contemporary (less than 100 years old), one modern (produced in the last 10 years) and one new work…all tied together with a theme (or throughline).
This year’s theme is dysfunctional families, which places August: Osage County in the same season as Arsenic and Old Lace. The new work, Book of Tricks, opens June 8, and was written by Mt. Lebanon playwright Alex Galatic of Glen Ridge Lane. In this play, Beth and Jim are struggling to make a life for their son with Asperger Syndrome when a chance meeting with Beth’s estranged father brings conflict as well as the opportunity for reconciliation.
Clearly, Throughline Theatre Company is committed to trying new things, “We want to show people theater they won’t see other places,” says Macik. The company rehearses in Castle Shannon, and performs in the 90-seat Gray Box Theater in Lawrenceville. Tickets are $15.
This year marks Stage 62’s 50th anniversary. Inaugurated in 1962, the company performs in the Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, a national historic landmark “very similar to Carnegie Hall in New York,” says actor and board president Chris Martin of Shady Drive East.
The majestic building, located just up the hill from Papa J’s in Carnegie, has just undergone a multimillion dollar restoration that repaired the roof and plaster and most notably added comfortable seats to the 300-person music hall.
Stage 62 is famous for its musicals, and July’s production is Sweeney Todd. “We have a core group of strong singers,” says Martin, and many of the performers have studied acting. Stage 62 won City Paper’s 2011 Reader’s Poll, Silver Award, for Best Local Theater. Martin says the camaraderie makes the performances better: “Once you have friends working together on stage, it creates powerful and compelling theater.”
The company produces four shows between November and July, including a children’s production each February. Tickets are no more than $15.
“The goal is to present quality theater for the community that the community can actually afford,” says Martin.
BROADWAY IN THE COUNTRY
OLD SCHOOLHOUSE PLAYERS
Anyone making the 25-minute drive to see a show at the Old Schoolhouse Players in Hickory will be richly rewarded. The venue is charming—a restored 215-seat high school theater with updated seating and state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems. The unique three-tiered stage allows directors to use multiple sets simultaneously and saves time between scene changes.
Old Schoolhouse Players “is a surprise for a lot of people,” says actor Charlotte Sonne of North Meadowcroft Avenue. “People go to support a friend and realize, ‘this is really good theater.’”
The volunteer actors run the “full gamut of experience” says actor and director Marcus Muzopappa—some have performed in New York.
The company generally offers five shows during their March to December season, a mix of musicals and plays designed to appeal to a broad audience. This July they are presenting Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat followed by The Odd Couple in the fall.
For all its professionalism, the Old Schoolhouse Players has a friendly, down-home feel. Concessions are homemade baked goods and tickets for all shows are under $15.
Sonne sums it up, “You feel like you’ve gone to visit your family doing a play.”
RIGHT NEXT DOOR
THE HERITAGE PLAYERS
Performing in the Bethel Park Community Center, The Heritage Players have been a presence on the community theater scene since 1997. The company offers three major productions each year: one musical and two plays, all for $12 and under. This year, The Sound of Music will be produced in October. A Children’s Theater production and a teen Summer Broadway Review will be presented in August.
“We try and have a diversity of genres,” says publicity director Nuela Zalak: “comedies, dramas and suspense thrillers.”
The Heritage Players include people with all levels of expertise and is open to everyone. “The most important feature is that it’s not competitive,” says theater arts professor and board member Jay Breckenridge of Marlin Drive West.
The group is very welcoming, concurs Zalak, “if you want to be in it, we find a place for you…on stage or behind the scenes.”
Fifteen years young and still going strong, The Heritage Players are clearly doing a lot of things right.
“Try us out,” says Zalak, “We’re your neighbor.”