Acting Outdoors

Sarah McGrath

Porthouse Theatre offers open-air entertainment, experience for students

Laura Beth Wells, Kent State alumna, performs in the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes” at Porthouse Theatre in Cuyahoga Falls. ABIGAIL S. FISHER | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: ABIGAIL S. FISHER

Amid uproarious applause, the Porthouse Theatre began its 39th season Friday night with the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes” performed for more than 400 people.

The Porthouse Theatre is situated on 88 wooded acres on the grounds of the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, which is about 25 minutes from campus.

“I think it is really important for people to know they have this phenomenal resource in their own backyards,” said Eric van Baars, the director for “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” “It is a little undiscovered gem.”

“Pump Boys and Dinettes” is a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical created during the early 1980s. It takes place in a diner and a gas station in North Carolina. The musical was first performed at Porthouse in 1999.

Many of those who attended took advantage of the theater’s outdoor pavilion and picnic area by coming early and having a picnic dinner with family and friends.

The pavilion was added to the Porthouse’s grounds in 2001 and is open to anyone attending a show at the theater.

With a record-breaking year in ticket sales, support from the community is obvious, said Effie Tsengas, the director of public relations and marketing for Porthouse.

“Over 2,200 people have bought season tickets already,” Tsengas said. “Many of the shows are almost sold out.”

Two other shows, the play “Peter Pan” and the musical “Sweet Charity,” will be performed later in the summer.

Porthouse is a place where local community members can go to experience the arts, but since its inception in 1968, the theater has also had a long-standing relationship with Kent State.

While the theater is independently run through donations and ticket sales, Kent State does provide staff and some monetary support for Porthouse.

One of the main attractions to Porthouse for Kent State students is the internship opportunities the theater provides.

“Porthouse is a wonderful way for Kent State students to continue their education,” said Chris Fornadel, public relations and marketing assistant for Porthouse. “They get to work with professionals not only on stage but off.”

Through a series of auditions and interviews, Kent State art, music and theater students – and other artists from all over the country – can have the opportunity to participate in Porthouse’s intern program.

“Porthouse is a special program in that we are a summer professional theater affiliated with Kent State,” said Terri Kent, the artistic director for Porthouse. “We bring together current students, alumni and professionals and put on a show that is professional for our audience and a learning experience for our students.”

Two of the actors who performed in “Pump Boys and Dinettes” were either past or present Kent State students.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the program,” said Laura Cook, who played Prudie in the musical. “It’s not an opportunity guaranteed for every Kent student.”

Cook is a graduate student in Kent State’s master of fine arts acting program.

For Laura Beth Wells, a 2000 graduate of the program, the opportunity to come back to Porthouse was not one she could miss.

“It’s great coming back and seeing familiar faces,” Wells said. “They have done so much with the space.”

Wells worked at Porthouse as a student when “Pump Boys and Dinettes” was first performed there.

According to the Porthouse Web site, ticket prices range from $15-22 with discounts available for students and seniors.

Contact features correspondent Sarah McGrath at [email protected]