Lights Out The “old” Pittsburgh Playhouse turns out the lights with nostalgic celebration of the 85-year-old theater
Point Park’s “old” Pittsburgh Playhouse hosted about 400 former performers, alumni, current students, faculty, theater friends and theater-loving community in a nostalgic and sometimes bittersweet celebration on the evening of June 18.
At the Lights Out celebration, the historic theatre opened its doors for the last time to those who have enjoyed it for the past 85 years in its Oakland home. It was the final event to be held at the current Playhouse before the brand new, four story, state-of-the-art teaching and theatre facility opens this fall in Downtown Pittsburgh.
The sold-out celebration featured an open mic in the Rockwell Theatre, a memorabilia and merchandise boutique in the Rauh Theatre, a photo booth, slideshow, and many opportunities for guests to leave their mark in the (old and new) Playhouse. One alumni couple took the opportunity to renew their vows in the Rockwell Theatre, which was also the site of a special closing ceremony in which attendees listened to farewell remarks and joined together in singing “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line.
“Entering the Rockwell Theatre this evening was very nostalgic for me. It reminded me of the opening scene from Follies,” said Mary Lee Casey, who studied at Point Park from 1972-74. She was among the many Playhouse alums who perused vintage posters, programs and other memorabilia for sale on the stage of the Rauh Theatre. “We would work backstage for the main stage shows, and afterward we’d often watch movies in the Rauh. That’s one of my fondest memories,” she said.
Among those searching for their names on a backstage graffiti wall was Shane Richardson (COPA ’15), a stage management graduate who is now a production manager for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Like many Playhouse alumni, he recalls signing the graffiti wall as a student. He said he has fond memories of working with Conservatory of Performing Arts faculty such as Producing Director Kim Martin, “a living legend.”
“The Playhouse was always such a great place to learn. It’s a place so many of us still feel connected to,” said Richardson. “This building has had a good life. But I’m also really happy that they are getting something new.” Updated facilities are needed and long overdue, he added.
Testament to love and family
Colleen Grutsch (Sheley) (COPA 1996), a technology executive who traveled from St. Louis to attend Lights Out, said, “I knew it would be an emotional experience, but I was actually in tears when I walked in this evening.” A musical theatre graduate, she took the opportunity to sign her name on a newly painted blue “Rock Wall” at the rear of the Rockwell stage. She also signed for her former classmate and friend Monte Smock (COPA 1995), who is now deceased.
“The number of people who are here tonight, I believe, is a testament to the love and the family that was created at the Playhouse,” said Grutsch.
Performance and Practices student Malle Winters, who was staffing the memorabilia sales table in the Rauh Theatre, couldn’t agree more. “I feel a special connection to this building because my mom, Kim Martin, is the producing director. I’m 20 years old, and I’ve been coming to the Playhouse for 20 years.”
An acting major with a concentration in directing, Winters said she “feels a strong attachment to the old Playhouse, and I’m a bit sad to see it go. At the same time, I’m super excited about the opportunity to work and learn in the new Playhouse,” she added. “The new building will be incredible.”
Retired dance professor and choreographer Douglas Bentz also has decades worth of memories connected to the Pittsburgh Playhouse. A Pittsburgh native, he spent time dancing in Europe and with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) before being recruited to teach at Point Park in 1976. Nicolas Petrov, who founded both the PBT and Point Park’s dance program, urged Bentz to join the Conservatory faculty to teach jazz dance.
“That was 40 years ago, and I learned that I love teaching,” said Bentz, who retired in 2017 and now teaches Pilates.
“This is a bittersweet,” he said. “I grew up at the Playhouse. I became an artist, and a man. My first piece of choreography was here at the Playhouse, in 1977, followed by four decades of teaching and choreography at Point Park.”
“Tonight, I see a lot of lovely ghosts from my heart. People who have passed, and people who are still here. They will be forever young. I see those who danced with me, or danced for me, or through [my choreography].
“And that’s beautiful.”
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by John Altdorfer
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University