Earlier this summer, I attended a community theater production of the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in the beautiful, air-conditioned, “state of the art” Ralston High School Theater. It certainly didn’t take long for my mind to drift back to the summer of 1973.
You see, in July 1973 the fledgling organization, Yorkshire Playhouse, opened its initial season with a robust performance of the aforementioned production deep in the bowels of the old York High School building in the monstrosity referred to as the girls’ gymnasium. The two spaces could not have provided a greater contrast.
But that baptismal production, under the direction of the late Joe Berry, was indicative of the early, nomadic nature of Yorkshire Playhouse which went on for the next three decades. It eventually secured a permanent home on the west side of the square where it now produces several shows a year under the watchful eyes of an ever-changing board of directors.
Consider the following excerpt from an NCIP award which was presented to the Playhouse in 2005:
“One of the obstacles to the Playhouse volunteers was that they did not have their own performance area. This meant the constant moving of flats, lights, props, chairs, risers, etc., for each production. Many times the playhouse had to work around the schedules of the restaurants, clubs, schools and other performance areas. Often, the set could not be erected until the week of the production, which meant a lot of stress to the cast and crew. However, they maintained their membership base due to the quality of the productions.”
I don’t believe that Yorkshire Playhouse ever returned to the dungeon space of the old gymnasium. Next. productions were raised at various locations: the Camelot Inn south of the interstate, the building which now houses the bookstore on the York College campus, on the floor of the York City auditorium (yes, the floor!) as well as the stage in the auditorium, at the Chances R Beer Garden, at the York High School Theater which became the home of the traditional summer musical, and in the basement of the former York Legion Club, which eventually became the semi-permanent home.
As I look back on those early days of Yorkshire Playhouse, several names come to mind: David Logan Morrow, a New York City transplant who lit the fire under the community to revive a community theatre; early board members Jon Strong, Marolyn Robson, Carol Toms, Bob and Lucianne Reichert, Don and Maxine Osentowski; performers like the late Richard Smithson, Judi Nordlund; the tireless contributions of volunteers like Kappy Carlson and Shirley Johnson. These people and many others like them led the way to provide an ambitious and creative outlet for the people in York County and established a solid foundation for those of who enjoy the ambitious productions that are currently presented each season by dedicated, hard-working volunteers.
In the words of a wise philosopher:
“So too we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants. We master their wisdom and move beyond it. Due to their wisdom we grow wise and are able to say all that we say, but not because we are greater than they.”
This post was written by Don Keelan-White.