Totem Pole Offers Summer Theatre Experience

Totem Pole Offers Summer Theatre Experience
by Pat Fridgen

The 55th season of professional summer theatre is underway. "The tradition continues with a careful blend of music, mystery, and comedy," says Carl Schurr, Producing Artistic Director. Indeed, each year the six plays fit one of these categories, so that everyone is sure to enjoy at least one production.
The line-up began in June with the musical Nunsense, and Funny Money, a fast-moving farce. The remaining schedule includes a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning comedy-drama August 2-14: and Mixed Emotions, a romantic comedy starring veteran Totem Pole actor Wil Love, August 16-28. Performances are Tuesdays - Saturdays 8pm, and matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays 2:30 pm and Sundays 3pm. Tickets range from $23 to $30. Student tickets are $10. Groups of 20 or more receive discounts. Post show discussions will be held August and 26. These are lively, informal chats with the cast, staff, directors, and audience.
The Totem Pole holds over 450 people and there's not a bad seat in the house. In the past ventilation was provided by breezes blowing through slats along the ceiling line. However, now air conditioning ensures a comfortable experience for theatre-goers. During intermission patrons may stand outside and enjoy refreshments from the concession stands.
Totem Pole meets eBay
Fundraising is an ongoing endeavor for the Caledonia Theatre Company, the not-for-profit organization that funds the Playhouse budget. While once there were 50 Council of Resident Stock Theatres in the United States, Totem Pole Playhouse is one of 11 that survive.
"Most have met their demise from lack of funding," states Judy Houser, Executive Director of the Caledonia Theatre Company. "Fundraising helps Totem Pole to keep ticket prices affordable for everyone."
And so the CTC employs some tried-and-true methods to raise money, as well as venturing into new territory. "Nearly everyone in America is eBaying, so we thought 'why not Totem Pole Playhouse?'" says Rose Tripi, Gettysburg PA, chairperson of the committee soliciting articles for the auction.
It costs approximately one million dollars a year to operate the Totem Pole, and ticket sales account for 70% of that. Therefore, eBay is one way to fill in the gap, and the CTC hopes to raise $10,000 this year. An auction is being held in conjunction with each of the six shows. Individuals and businesses have donated items.
eBay fanatics may search the username totempoleplay to find the items on auction. Among the finds are Jean Stapleton memorabilia, dinner with Carl Schurr and Wil Love, a weekend in the Poconos, four tickets to an Orioles game at Camden Yards, and gift certificates and treasures from local businesses.
The CTC is also sponsoring two silent auctions at the Totem Pole. "The first auction has bids on all 34 items," said Houser. Additional items will be up for bid the second half of the summer.
Special Events Offer Fun and Funds
A summer theatre camp is currently underway. Twenty-five youngsters ages 8-15 participated. They come from quite a region, including Hagerstown and Smithsburg MD and Waynesboro and McConnellsburg PA. The students created a theatre piece that they presented to the public on July 1. They are instructed by the 'Theatre of 1000 Juliets' from Asheville NC. The camp will again be held in the summer of 2006.
The CTC revived the Theatre Fun Fest this past May. This free event was geared toward children. The public was able to learn about costumes, set design, construction, and makeup, and observe live rehearsals, and get backstage tours. A flea market included items from previous shows and a local estate. A crowd of 1500 enjoyed the activities. The success is reflected on the calendar. "There will be a Fun Fest '06 on Saturday, May 27," said Sue McMurtray, Managing Director of the Totem Pole Playhouse.
Another fundraiser on tap is the 'Rock-n-roll with Totem Pole' on November 5 at the Marion PA Fire Hall. The dance will feature music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s by Blue Tonic.
The accomplishments of the playhouse could not be achieved without the help of a dedicated group of people. " 'Friends of Totem Pole Playhouse' is a very active organization that supports us by volunteering with ushering, special events, greeting buses, preparing mailings and contributing food to cast dinners and picnics," said Houser. "In 2004 we had 125 members." The Friends always welcomes new faces and encourages greater membership.
So What's with the Totem Pole?
The colorful totem pole gracing the entrance of the playhouse is the third such carving. Nature has a way of taking care of these pieces of art. This pole was recently carved, delivered, and erected by Brian Sprague of Venango PA. He used various chain saws in the creation. Steve Delamater of McDonald's in Chambersburg PA funded this endeavor.
Each section of the totem pole has significance. The flames at the base represent the fire that destroyed the playhouse in 1969. The child sticking out his tongue represents the teen group that raised funds for the new playhouse, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The bear is a protector, symbolizing the late Bill Putch. He and his wife, Jean Stapleton, ran the playhouse for 30 years. The beaver is the industriousness of those who rebuilt the playhouse. The fox has a green frog in its mouth. This is wisdom devouring dissent. The thunderbird eagle triumphantly towers over flames and diversity. Thunderbird Limited is the name of the theatrical company started by Putch. Today it is owned by Producing Artistic Director Carl Schurr.
The first totem pole was paid for by a Chambersburg teen group, with the late Skip Flack serving as president. Donald O. Park of Greenvillage carved that pole in 1970, as well as the second pole in 1977. Both fell victim to termites and woodpeckers. Pieces of the first were sold off by Putch. Pieces of the second are for sale on eBay. Sprague also carved a 3-foot replica of the current model, to be listed on eBay.
There is also a small totem pole at the side of the playhouse, donated around 1980. Paul Mills Holmes, Production Stage Manager, recalls going away at the end of one summer, and when he returned, there it was. It was repainted about five years ago through the generosity of Edna and Mickey Scubelek. Both are now retired, but she planted and cared for the flowerbeds for 15 years, and he delivered the summer brochures for 21 years and worked grounds and building maintenance.
The Totem Pole Playhouse is located at the intersection of US Route 30 and PA 223 South. For more information call 717-352-2164 or 1-888-805-7056. The website is