Lights Out Gathering Conjures Memories and a Few Ghosts at the Playhouse

20180618_214333Kiss the day goodbye…

When theatre practitioners gather there are stories to be told. When Point Park University invited former performing arts students and friends to the venerable Pittsburgh Playhouse for a final party on two stages, the event was a sell out. It was a sentimental and vibrant evening–warm hugs and cold drinks on a hot spring night–full of memories, conversations with old friends from past shows and classes, and chances to “be remembered” by writing on surfaces soon to disappear. Think class reunion meets cast party.

Gotta have a gimmick…

The back wall and fly space in the Rauh Theatre

The back wall and fly space in the Rauh Theatre

As a PPU alumna who initially interacted with Playhouse artists as a student journalist, I returned as an observer, recalling many theater and dance performances that shaped my own professional steps. I was a journalism undergrad who often interview artists, reviewed productions, and publicized the legendary Playhouse Jr. as an intern. On this night, I was again observer, visiting some areas of the building for the first time. So this final glance represents just some of my last impressions of the grand old dame of Pittsburgh theatre, the Playhouse.

Old friend…

During the evening, guests found fellow cast members, faculty, and fans among the estimated three hundred visitors who were given access to all corners of the performance center. Whether enjoying refreshments or drinks on both the Rauh and Rockwell Theatre stages or exploring the lower dressing rooms or side scene shop spaces, those who made the memories for decades of audience members were making new memories in familiar places.

Emily Leech Bell and back wall of the Rockwell Theatre

Emily Leech Bell and back wall of the Rockwell Theatre

I wanna be a producer…

Alums were able to sign and leave message on the back wall of the Rockwell stage, on a giant poster board of the building, and find their former monikers on the walls of the Rauh stage. Every corner of the spaces evoked memories for–as seems to be the tradition in theatre life–not much is discard but forever reused, recycled or used to document the experiences of performances that are passing fancies until the next show.

Show People…

I found old friends Lisa Delmar and Steven Wilson, both PPU Class of 1996, catching up on Rockwell stage. A longtime New Yorker, Lisa hadn’t been to the theatre since she was on the stage in Into the Woods in 1994–and she had brought a show photo for old times sake, pictured below.

IMG_1865Steven last directed Our Lady of 121st Street at the Playhouse in 2015 and has just moved back to Pittsburgh. He recalled spending time from age 11 when he attended many theater programs for young people through his college career at Point Park. Wayne Brinda, artistic director of Prime Stage Theatre, and Steven reunited in one of the countless “What have you been doing?” conversations that could be heard all over the building.

Another openin’, another show…

In the Studio Theatre, a slideshow recounted years of productions through the requisite photos documenting every production. For universities, video is limited, due to production rights, so these “frozen in time” stills become the record for many students’ performance, design, and production management work as they enter the arts community following graduation. Now you might find some of them sprinkled as memories in artists’ Facebook pages, but at Lights Out, these memories were in the spotlight.

Come and meet those dancing feet…

IMG_1875I asked the woman sharing my table about an intriguing pair of shoes mounted on the wall high above the side stage entryway. We had both taken a photo of them but knew nothing about their history. But it was the Playhouse Jr. we had in common. Emily Leech Bell is the daughter of the program’s founder Bill Leech. He as the manager for whom I did PR during college. Emily was attending more on behalf of her sister Alice Leech, a theatre alumna in California and in memory of her late father. I recalled seeing Alice in Wait Until Dark during college.

God bless us every one…

Jim Critchfield, an alumnus whose character roles are well-known in the region, reunited with Audra Blazer which whom he was on stage when she was Tiny Tim to his first Scrooge in town.

When a thing is wick…

Every nook and cranny–from the box office to the green room–was full of something you can’t quite put a finger on, but the joy, sorrow, and resonance of art making was palpable that night. Richard Rauh, whose name has long honored his family’s support of the Playhouse, garnered several standing ovations. Before final bows, Ron Lindblom is the most recent in a long line of PPU administrators and artistic directors who have cared for curriculum, productions and facilities during the 83 year run of the Playhouse. At the evening’s end he reminded the full house in the Rockwell how aptly the place was located at the corner of Craft and Hamlet in Oakland. Now it’s place that will live on in memory and tradition at PPU’s new Pittsburgh Playhouse downtown.

Ken Gargao and Richard Rauh

Ken Gargao and Richard Rauh

What I did for love…

Everyone joined those on stage singing “What I did for Love” in the Rockwell. Then the stage manager appropriately made the last call, lights down and lights…out. Ghostlight. Carrying souvenirs with them and even more memories into the steamy night, everyone knew they were leaving a bit of themselves behind but taking even more with them for spending just a few more hours…on stage at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

And I am telling you I’m not going…

And what I take with me? A green Playhouse holiday ornament, some teary tissues, and a reminder that were it not for the Pittsburgh Playhouse and my editor at PPU’s Globe, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story for you now.

Follow me…

Follow the new Pittsburgh Playhouse and its autumn 2018 opening production Cabaret here and at pittsburghplayhouse.com.. For more on the original Pittsburgh Playhouse and the theatre history that preceded its purchase by Point Park, visit background on Wikipedia, a reminder of how the theatre was a forerunner to the city’s cultural district and more contemporary venues. For context of the Playhouse’s role in Pittsburgh theater, look for Lynne Connor’s Pittsburgh in Stages where many other long-gone venues are documented.

So, come hear the music play…



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