Back in 2013, the launch of a new community theatre in Westmoreland County seemed like just a pipe dream to Rob Jessup and Nate Newell, Split Stage Productions founders and co-owners. Despite the challenges and the odds of being successful, Rob and Nate are ready to open their fifth season with the now iconic Rocky Horror Show followed by Sondheim’s classic Sweeney Todd. They will conclude the season with the Westmoreland County premiere of Bonnie and Clyde.
I spoke with Rob about the challenges and surprises of bringing a new company to life and the rewards that go with it. “Thirteen / fourteen shows later we have made it to five years. Our productions are getting better. We are learning with every show.”
Finance is always the challenge, before gaining 501c3 non-profit status. “We funded the shows out of our own pockets. That was quite the challenge for two guys with wives and young kids”. Not having a dedicated performance space is a challenge as well. Everything has to come together in just as few days when they gain access to the theatre. This season all three shows are at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, making Split Stage the resident company at the Lamp. Rob and Nate’s shows have been embraced by the local community and the theatre, which has been very supportive of their efforts. The Irwin location is just 22 miles from downtown Pittsburgh. This allows Split Stage to draw audiences, actors, creatives, and crew from both Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties.
Both men have been flattered by the number of experienced area actors wanting to be involved and coming to auditions.
For the 5th season, there is a red theme going on, a killer season so to speak. In the past, they have produced two musicals and a smaller show. For season five, it is three large musicals not often seen in Westmoreland County of which all three have connections to the movies.
Rocky Horror “is usually staged around Halloween, [there has been] no summer place to see it. It is an unconventional show so why not an unconventional time? Besides its easier for the audience to come in costume during the summer.” Most people know the story from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which followed the 1974 stage musical. In case you need a memory refresh, the musical tells the story of a newly engaged couple getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad scientist, Dr. Frank N. Furter. He unveils his new Frankenstein like creation named Rocky Horror, a sort an artificially made, fully grown, physically perfect muscle man complete “with blond hair and a tan”.
PMT alumni with lead roles on the creative team are Brady Patsey as Director, Choreography by Mandy Russak, who played the gender-bending MC in their production of Cabaret, and Musical Direction by Nick Stamatakis. The show has a cast of fifteen with ten actors new to Split Stage. Featured are Mickey Orange as Brad, Katherine Harkins as Janet, Cassidy Adkins as the Narrator, Matthew Russak as Riff Raff, Riley Tate as Magenta, Nichole Uram as Columbia, Adam Fladd as Frank “N” Furter and Ian Olson as Rocky.
The production will “embrace the period of the show for die-hard fans and will be a real rock concert.” Fittingly, the final performance is at midnight. Bring your toast, wear your costumes and channel your inner Janet and Brad. Performances are June 15th to 23rd. Newspaper and squirt guns are optional.
Benjamin Barker was wrongfully sentenced to life imprisonment by the corrupt Judge Turpin Barker. In this now classic Stephen Sondheim musical Barker uses his new alias, Sweeney Todd, to resume work in his barber shop located above Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. After swearing vengeance against the judge that tore his family apart, Todd and Lovett plot develop a unique recipe for meat pies that leads them down a dangerous path with deadly consequences.
Director Stephen Santa brings his unique view of how to do Sweeney to the Lamp Theatre. Santa will “create a unique twist on the Demon Barber, unlike anything ever seen or heard before.” This show runs the Lamp Theatre from October 5th to 13th.
The season closes with Frank Wildhorn’s musical Bonnie & Clyde, February 8th to 16th, 2019. At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from two small-town nobodies in West Texas to America’s most renowned folk heroes/fugitives and Texas law enforcement’s worst nightmares. When they meet, their mutual cravings for excitement and fame immediately set them on a mission to chase their dreams. Their bold and reckless behavior turns the young lovers’ thrilling adventure into a downward spiral, putting themselves and their loved ones in trouble with the law. As they are forced to stay on the run, the lovers resort to robbery and murder to survive. As the infamous duo’s fame grows prominent, their inevitable end draws nearer.
The score for Bonnie & Clyde combines blues, gospel, and rockabilly music “has seen a tremendous revitalization in regional and community theatres” Laura Wurzell of Belmont is Directing.
Split Stage’s fifth season promises an exciting mix of musicals. For tickets visit www.splitstage.com