Hearing Little Lake Theatre’s artistic director, Jena Oberg, talk about the theatre’s upcoming 70th anniversary makes you want to immediately join the Little Lake family. Little Lake is steeped in tradition without descending into a dated stuffiness one might automatically associate with a theatre company that dates back to 1948. Based in Canonsburg, Little Lake serves Washington County and the broader Pittsburgh area.
Oberg herself is no small part of Little Lake’s long history. She celebrates 21 years of involvement with the theatre, rising from starring role in Anne of Green Gables as a junior in high school to artistic director. With a theatre degree from Northwestern University, she has the credentials to match. In those 21 years, Little Lake has staged over 60 productions, and they now do 15-16 productions a season. The upcoming 70th anniversary season will include eleven productions on the main stage plus four children’s shows. Little Lake’s season extends from April to December with each show rehearsing for three weeks then running for three weeks. This ambitious production calendar is all the more impressive considering Little Lake’s talent is entirely volunteer. You might expect a stock of evergreen veterans given the theatre’s lineage. While there are always plenty of returning actors, Oberg is careful to balance them with new talent each season.
If anything, this septuagenarian is only getting more interesting as it ages, constantly reinventing itself to stay relevant in a way we can all aspire to. Just last season, Oberg was awarded a grant to create the region’s first sensory friendly production for two shows. These dedicated performances created a safe space for kids with autism and other special needs to experience theatre with their parents. Attendees were able to meet the actors beforehand to get comfortable with the characters and their transformations, loud sounds were recalibrated, and those with vision impairment could feel the costumes. Oberg emphasizes it is all part of the vision of community theatre: to be inclusive and let everyone experience theatre.
Little Lake’s upcoming 70th anniversary season centers on paying tribute to great shows, both plays they’ve produced and ones they haven’t. The season will open boldly on April 19th with Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, a play Oberg has been wanting to do forever and finally secured the rights to (April 19-May 5). Harwood’s play traces overcoming reluctance in the form of classic actor who does not want to go onstage to portray King Lear.
Next up starting on May 10th (and running through May 26th) will be A Flea in Her Ear. This farce set in the 1960’s was adapted by Greg Learning from the play by Georges Feydeau. A new director will guide Flea to the stage, making manifest Little Lake’s constant reinvention and blending of the old and new.
The third production (May 31-June 16) will be Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, which Oberg will direct. Set in both the early 19th century and modern day, Stoppard’s classic comedy is perennially in season.
The fourth production in this hallmark 70th season will be Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (June 21-July 7), a reprisal of a crowd-pleasing favorite that’s been done at Little Lake before. Coward’s 1924 comedy of manners is just as relevant today as it was nearly 100 years ago in exploring the intricacies of familial relationships.
While Little Lake has done countless Tennessee Williams productions, this season marks the first time they’re bringing his classic A Streetcar Named Desire to the stage. The sultry heat of Williams’ New Orleans setting will be transported to southwestern Pennsylvania summer as the season’s fifth production (July 12-July 28). Southern belle Blanche DuBois will call out for “the kindness of strangers” across a humid night.
Little Lake carries the Louisiana heat into its sixth production, Steel Magnolias (August 2-August 18). Robert Harling’s 1987 classic follows Hay Fever as the only other repeat production of the season. Steel Magnolias has historically been a sellout for the Little Lake. This upcoming rendition is unlikely to be an exception as there’s something that feels like coming home in gathering at Truvy’s Beauty Spot.
The season’s seventh production, Little Miss Sunshine, will be the first musical of the season (August 30-September 15). James Lapine (book) and William Finn (music and lyrics) adapted this 2011 musical from the 2006 Academy Award-winning film of the same name. This road trip piece introduces us to the memorably quirky Hoover family, including Olive, a spunky children’s beauty pageant hopeful.
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth will mark the eighth production in the 70th celebratory season (September 20-October 6). Shakespeare’s tragedy is the second of two productions Oberg will direct. Her vision of a post-apocalyptic Scotland with a Game of Thrones essence will make the production a riveting must-see. With its tensions between political ambition and duty, Macbeth has never been more relevant. Oberg notably received a coveted Heinz endowment to support this production of Macbeth. The funding will allow the first act to be performed outside, utilizing the theatre’s idyllic setting and generous grounds. In addition, the funding supports Oberg’s mission to do at least one educational piece every year. This piece will provide an opportunity to work with local high school students as well as bring in a Shakespeare scholar.
Another new director will be at the helm for the season’s ninth production, Sherlock Holmes and The West End Horror (October 11-October 27). The play is an adaptation by Anthony Dodge of Nicholas Meyer’s novel The West End Horror. The murder of a theatre critic is at the center of this story (a case where one hopes life doesn’t imitate art!). Despite the grisly backdrop, the play is a vaudeville-like comedy filled with an enticing cast of historical literary greats.
The season will begin to wind down with its tenth production, The Lion in Winter (November 1-November 17). James Goldman’s play takes place over Christmas at Henry II’s castle, offering another chance beyond Macbeth to inhabit the world of the royals this season.
Christmas comes into the 20th century and continues with A Christmas Story: The Musical (November 23-December 16). This eleventh and final production in Little Lake’s 70th season will represent the second musical of the season. Oberg shared that Little Lake has an innovative emerging director program that gives aspiring directors the chance to shadow and learn. A Christmas Story will be directed by one of the program’s graduates, showing that theatre creates its own virtuous circle.
In addition to its robust line-up of adult-oriented programming, Little Lake is careful to cultivate a love of theatre in the next generation. Any parent knows summer can be long. Little Lake helps absorb the burden between its summer theatre camps and Looking Glass Play series for kids that runs across the summer. This summer’s line-up will commence with The Little Mermaid Jr. (June 13-June 30) and The Jungle Book will be a fast follow (July 6-July 21). The summer season will conclude with The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley Jr. (July 25-August 11). Little Lake pulls the fun into fall with a production of the always magical The Secret Garden (September 29-October 27). Pick up a discounted subscription to all three summer shows, or better yet, there’s a subscription offering that includes an ice cream social too. Being a summertime hero to the kiddos has never been easier.
During their most recent off-season Little Lake Theatre switched ticketing companies and relaunched their outdated website, bringing the theatre fully into the digital era. Their modern new site truly reflects the always progressive, forward-looking nature of Little Lake, propelling them into the next seven decades. Check out their new site and their season and purchase tickets online. Plan to spend part of your theatre season celebrating with Little Lake and finding your place in their inclusive family.