The culture of a theater is dictated by hundreds of elements, one of the most significant of which is its size. Any theater worth its merit has a soul, a family, a crew, and, not insignificantly, usually a ghost. The size of a theater plays a pretty huge role in this equation; each production, each concession stand, each stage plays a greater role in establishing the spiritual nature of a place.
Perhaps no Pittsburgh theater is more actively aware of this little/big economy than the McKeesport Little Theater. I recently had the chance to sit down with MLT’s President, Linda Baker, to discuss their upcoming season, as well as the theater itself.
More than anything, MLT cares about its people: “The audience has a say,” Baker told me. “We are sensitive to what they want to see. At the same vein, we try catering towards the audiences of the future.” This concern for audience satisfaction extends from production decisions, to its community-oriented MLT Juniors Program, to travel concerns – Baker even takes care to ensure the steep road leading to the theater is clear and salted during winter productions.
The first of four main productions, MLT’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, a perennial crowd pleaser, is in some ways evidence of their approach to bridging the gap between friendliness and riskiness. Directed by Robert Hockenberry, a primary goal of the production is focus on the humanity of the show’s colorful cast, and by extension what humanity means exactly to each of us.
The relationship between the play’s titular lead characters promises to reexamine the contemporary fairy tale in a similar way, thanks to the casting of real-life couple Justin and Kristi Delboe.
Additionally, the production will feature “adults playing adults,” and will avoid trivializing its supporting cast. “[Robert Hockenberry] didn’t want to portray [the characters] as a cartoon. He worked with the cast to find the humanity in each object.” Audiences can see the play for themselves September 9th-25th.
Up next is 12 Angry Men, directed by Laura Oxenreiter. Long considered one of the greatest examples of dialogue-driven storytelling, the Reginald Rose-penned classic is about a 19 year old man standing trial for the brutal murder of his father. Although it initially appears to be an open and shut case, one skeptical juror believes the young man to be innocent. Through an intense exchange of ideas, evidence, and biases, the 12 jurors debate their way towards a complicated, uncertain interpretation of truth. 12 Angry Men will be performed from November 4th-20th. Auditions for the show will be open September 18th-19th.
Polish Joke, a play by David Ives, is something of a wild card in MLT’s fall season. Directed by David Hoffman, Polish Joke follows Jasiu, a Polish-American exploring his ethnic identity in a complex culture. Acutely aware of the show’s (relative) obscurity, Baker feels the play is an opportunity to expose MLT’s audience to something fresh, and an example of the necessity of risk. “If [we’re] not willing to take a little risk, we wouldn’t be able to put on something like Polish Joke. You have to take risks.”
“I don’t think a lot of people have heard about it,” Baker continued. “I want [our audience] to have a new experience.” The play promises to have a quirky sense of humor, and is intended to be a breath of fresh air. Polish Joke will be performed from March 10th to March 26th.
This season’s final show will be Anything Goes. Directed by MLT veteran Dorothy Follows, the light-hearted classic tells the story of the inhabitants of the ocean liner S. S. American. Aided by nightclub singer Reno Sweeny and Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin, Billy Crocker hopes to win the heart of Hope Harcourt, who is soon to be wed to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. With a show filled to the brim with elaborate disguises and good old fashioned hijinks, Baker looks to end this year’s season “on a big note.”
Lastly, MLT will continue its Juniors Program, which empowers young locals to try their hand at theater. When I asked her what impact the program can have on the community, Baker told me about her own children’s personal experiences.
“As a parent, I think the impact was that it gave my children the opportunity to learn about theater in a safe environment with kids that are like-minded. It made my [son] happy to have the skills to perform and learn.”
The program, primarily filled with young, aspiring actors, gives kids the chance to rehearse and put on a live show – this year, the Juniors Program will be putting on Madagascar: The Musical. Although this year’s show is still very much in the making, Baker and her team are already “having fun thinking about costuming. Do you want them to be cartoony, or human with the suggestion of an animal?”
“Do I think [MLT’s Junior Porgram] impacted how [my son] sees the world? I think it impacted his outlook. He found a niche that leads to a career,” said Baker. “Kids are here to be creative. Seeing them come out of themselves doing something different…it’s fun!”
Kids looking to get involved in the MLT Juniors Production can find more about the program at the theater’s website. Madagascar: The Musical will be performed this January.