There are over 7,000 community theater groups in the United States but less than 200 of them of have been in continuous existence for more than fifty years and last night my wife and I went to the gala celebrating the induction of Ponca Playhouse into this select group.
Founded in 1959 Ponca Playhouse has produced 231 regular and off-season projects and children’s productions.
Ponca Playhouse will be opening this season with “The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker” which was the first production ever staged by the playhouse. “The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker” was produced in the Ponca City High School auditorium and played to a total audience of 383 theatergoers. Over the years, the playhouse moved from the High School auditorium, to the Civic Center, where they paid the city $1 a year for use of the facility, and finally to the Poncan Theater where they are today. In 1996 Ponca Playhouse was able to buy their own facility on South 1st street where they have their rehearsals and put together their sets and costumes. I understand that they are adding some modifications to the South 1st facility to bring it up to code for live performances and may start doing dinner theater there in a year or two.
In honor of the playhouse's anniversary, Ponca Playhouse's five productions this year will include a reprise of one play from each decade of the playhouse's history and will include "Steel Magnolias," "The Odd Couple," "Bus Stop," and "Fiddler on the Roof."
Last night was the gala in honor of the anniversary and about 100 people attended a reception and live performance of some of the greatest musical hits of the playhouse over the years. We had a terrific time.
I have a personal connection to the Ponca Playhouse because I was 15 years old when I saw my first play - "The Seven Year Itch" produced by the playhouse in 1966. Charles Clapp, the youth director for the First Methodist Church, was an active member of the playhouse and he gave me a ticket to attend the performance. I was dazzled. I had never seen live theater produced before and I remember the production and the excitement I felt watching it to this day.
As an aside, I remember someone telling me that the play, about a man who contemplated having an extra-marital affair after seven years of marriage, scandalized Ponca City at the time and that some members of the audience resigned their membership when the playhouse produced the play.
I was so intrigued by seeing my first theatrical production that when auditions were held for the next playhouse presentation, W. Somerset Maughn's "The Circle," I came down to the theater for an audition and Director Ralph Meader, who worked as a chemist down at Conoco, selected me to play the butler, a small part with three or four lines. It was really a different world from High School and the chance to work with adults in an atmosphere of camaraderie really had a big effect on how I thought about life and gave me a lifelong interest in art and theater.
Later that year, I had the opportunity along with Carl Schaeffer and Tom Patten from the senior class at Ponca City High School to audition for Director JoAnn Muchmore for one of the main characters, George Mead, in "Our Town" and although I wasn't selected for that part, I did get to play the "Man in Auditorium" in the first act and the "Dead Man" in the cemetery in the third act.
Over the years my wife and I have enjoyed being members of Baltimore's "Center Stage," one of the country's finest regional theaters, and we go up to New York a few times a year to see Broadway productions, but I remember with real affection how my interest in live theater got its start at Ponca Playhouse forty years ago.
Take a look at some of my photos from the gala last night.