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Fontana di Trevi (1762), Nicola Salvi & Pietro Bracci

April is the last month of my travels in Europe. It has been an incredible semester, I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences I am fortunate enough to have shared with my classmates and people I’ve met here. The temperature is pretty high in Florence, and it’s starting to pick up again in Emmitsburg as well! The inclination to stay indoors is starting to go away, and we’re looking to spend more time away from home. So why not attend a performance at the Totem Pole Playhouse?

The Totem Pole Playhouse is a summer theater group located in the general vicinity of the Emmitsburg area, and has been putting on performances for over sixty years. It was founded in 1950, after a group of thirteen individuals decided to bring theater to the area. Like many other success stories, the Totem Pole Playhouse began in a converted garage in Garners, PA. It was an important first step, but was unfitting for two reasons: it was a pretty small setting, not ready for the expansion that the founders were hoping for, and it was reportedly difficult for theatergoers to find. So, in 1951, the theater was moved atop a hill in Caledonia State Park.

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The most memorable name associated with the Totem Pole Playhouse is Mr. Bill Putch, an ambitious and kind man who looked to make major advances in the world of theater during his time.

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At the time the theater was founded, Mr. Putch applied to be a theater director in the early 1950s, and his application was declined. In a necessary move, he chose to found a theater in order to build up his experience. Then one day, he discovered an advertisement in a newspaper. The Totem Pole Playhouse was looking for a new theater director. And, like many others who have encountered our community, he fell in love with what he discovered in this area. He agreed to be theater director over a home-cooked meal with the President at the time and his wife.

What is remarkable about the early history of the Totem Pole Playhouse is how many shows it would put on in a normal summer season. An old method that the Playhouse used in order to showcase eleven different plays in a single season was to retain residency members of the stock company. In an interview some time ago, Doug Robin, Bill’s best friend, explained how the Playhouse was capable of such output, “A resident member of a stock company signs a contract to be cast in plays as the producer or director sees fit. And you’d play several different parts in a season.” By incorporating this method, the Playhouse was able to orchestrate several different plays catering to different interests that we, as the public, have individually and collectively.

The theater had great success. In 1967, for the show’s 150th production, the theater had over 27,000 visitors. A publication from New York referred to the Totem Pole Playhouse as the “Cadillac of summer theaters,” and public interest continued to grow. But public support would be the most evident after tragedy struck the theater. In 1969, a fire broke out at the theater, burning almost all of it to the ground. The only part of the building not in complete ruin was a concrete wall, upon which Mr. Putch wrote “Totem Pole Will Rise Again.”

Totem Pole Will Rise Again

An overwhelming outpouring of financial and emotional support followed. A group of teenagers raised money and worked together to create a new Totem Pole to stand outside of the new theater, a print shop printed 1500 free tickets for a fundraising performance, and other local theaters offered free equipment to this performance.

The love and support of the community is deeply imbedded in the Totem Pole Playhouse, and its current mission to provide excellent theatrical performances for the local and greater communities. Because this is a summer theater, we’re very close to another season of fantastic programs! This summer there will be four major programs for subscription holders, and a surprise showing which will be the first one of the year.

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This first show is Lovesick Blues, a musical concert that has been a fan favorite for quite some time. Back by popular demand, there will only be eight showings, so make sure you order your tickets soon! It is a country-blues musical that focuses on the work of Hank Williams Sr., played by Robbie Limon, and Patsy Cline, played by Denise Patton. It has a fantastic conclusion, which you might have expected, with a duet of the very famous 1940s hit Lovesick Blues. It will be performed May 17 – May 22, and tickets will be sure to sell fast!

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Five days after the end of Lovesick Blues comes Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, a revealing and touching comedy on the nature of love, tolerance, and trust in other people. It was adapted into a movie in 2014, and has an interesting premise. An elderly woman, Lily Harrison, begins her retirement down in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. She is somewhat cranky in her age, easy to antagonize and very set in her ways. Looking to branch out a little, she hires a private dance instructor named Michael to give her one dance lesson per week for six weeks. Michael is more impromptu, more open to experience, which clashes in a very funny way with Lily. A comedy with great music and dance is certainly worth your time! The show runs May 27 – June 12, and makes for a great summer afternoon or evening.

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Forever Plaid is just the play for you, if you are an avid fan of 1950s pop tunes and barbershop quartets. The show stars four guys, Sparky, Jinx, Smudge and Frankie who are looking to achieve musical glory in their own time. Their tale of triumph, misfortune and success in creating an album that will rock the world will catch your attention and love. What better way for us to participate in music of the past than a fun night remembering some excellent tunes from the past? This play will run between June 17 – July 3.

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Then there is the comedy which many different audiences have found uproariously funny, One Slight Hitch. The Asbury Park Press commented that, “If sustained laughter is the measure of comedy, then One Slight Hitch makes the grade.” The New York Times remarked that “There’s more than a touch of Neil Simon in the morose [playwright] Mr. Black.” This play, one that I have seen before and highly recommend, is about a backyard wedding set in 1981, and the wild events of that day, especially when the ex-boyfriend of the bride comes back completely unaware of what’s about to happen. The play will be showcased from July 8 – July 24, and is a very funny take on a typical wedding day.

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Finally, the last program the Playhouse will perform this season is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a joyful musical about the life and times in ancient Rome. It has been called witty, irreverent, and “one of the funniest musicals ever written.” The central character of the play is Pseudolus, a slave who is working to find a wife for his master in the hopes that he will be freed. The plot-twists, humor and cases of mistaken identity make this a must-see musical! It will be shown from July 29 – August 14.

The Totem Pole Playhouse is located at 9555 Golf Course Road in Fayetteville, PA. If you’d like to call in with any questions about showtimes or ticket options, feel free to contact the lovely people at the Playhouse at (717) 352-2614.

 

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