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Port Summer Show's Beginnings

This article was originally published in Portfolio of Homes in June 1988. It describes our beginnings from inspiration, to theater on the bay, to our current performance home at Schreiber High School.


SUMMER THEATER IN PORT - by Lee Healy


There was once a girl in Port Washington (her name was Kathe O'Connor) who, not being from a nautical, tennis-playing family, said "There is nothing creative to do in Port in the summer!"

 

Fortunately, she said it to the young woman who had been directing the winter children's show for Play Troupe, Port's regular theater group.

 
The woman was Pam Meadows and she relayed this cry of teen-age ennui to her husband who was on the board of the Bandshell Committee which sponsored Port's summer band shows. Between them, they persuaded Play Troupe, and the Bandshell, to sponsor Port's first Teen Theater production.

 
So, from that cry was born a tradition--summer theater in Port Washington.

 
The first show, in 1972, was "Anything Goes".

 
"We had no money so we improvised everything. We used cyclone fences with muslin drops for the scenery--for every scene change, we just flipped over the next sheet of muslin." said Ron Meadows who produced the shows and designed the sets.

 
"The Bandshell is right by the water and 'Anything Goes' is a nautical show, so the sea in the background supplied plenty of atmosphere," added Pam.

 
Ron created a tower from plumbers' piping and Brook Electric put in a power outlet. Ron had six lights to aim at the stage.

 
The next year was "Bye Bye Birdie" -- and eight lights1 One night there were 1,000 people crowded into the green to see the show and the Meadows realized they needed better stage facilities.

 
By the fourth year, the Adult Education Department of the Port school system invited them to perform in the Schreiber High School Auditorium.

 
Then, in keeping with the ups and downs of show business, Austerity struck. The school board's budget failed to pass which meant all the "frills" were cut out and the show could only go on if it paid its own way.

 
"It's not that we lacked sponsors," said Ron Meadows, "it's just that we wanted sponsors who would let us do things our way."

 
Teen Theater policy was always that the kids do as much as possible themselves -- make and paint the scenery, make their own costumes or find them in the local thrift shops (through some parents, mothers mostly, have been known to wild a dab needle), and help with production, publicity, and ticket sales.

 
Although the summer theater has always been low budget, production fees have to be paid for, as well as script rentals, and in the throes of austerity, custodial fees had to be paid when the Schreiber auditorium was used.

 
Eventually, some parents found benefactors for the show -- I.B.M. (who owns a golf club in Port) and the Robert L. Harding Real Estate firm. Since 1980, Robert Harding has been a regular benefactor.

 
In spite of the constant struggle for sufficient funds, the Teen Theater went from strength to strength.

 
Kids can take part the summer they finish sixth grade and if they catch the "theater bug" they can do it every summer until they finish High School.

 
Plenty of kids have been through seven Teen Theater productions, starting in the chorus and working their way into big and better parts as they got older.

 
For their fifteenth summer, the meadows put on a full-fledged "Peter Pan" with an instructor from Foy Inventorprises sprinkling a little fairy dust, so to speak, to help Peter and the Darling children fly to Never-Never Land.

 
The show was the last in the galaxy of "smash hits" which included "Guys and Dolls", "Oliver", "Grease", and "Annie". It was the fifteenth show, and Pam and Ron both said "Enough".

 
The threat of no more Teen Theater caused a minor panic among that segment of Port's population for whom it had become a way of life.

 
Everyone possible was recruited -- the Port Washington Youth Council, the School Board in the guise of Adult Education, Bob Harding, of course, and I.B.M. again. But who was going to direct, who to produce?

 
Directing talent was hired from outside Port which proved that even with the best intentions, it's tough to do this particular job if you commute from the city each day.

 
Since the Teen Theater had been the Meadows' "baby", it was decided to change the name slightly. The Port Summer Show went on, with "Barnum".

 
This Sumer, the show will be "Bye Bye Birdie" (August 12, 13, 14 and 15) and once again, there will be a Port resident to direct the show -- Mardi Braun.

 
Ms. Braun has lived here since 1976 and has taken part in the last six musicals put on by Port Singers. Like Pam Meadows, Mardi was trained both as an educator and in the theater.

 
The musical director will be Jon Hall, who was on stage in several of Pam's earlier productions, and in the orchestra pit for a number of recent ones.

 
Bess Mulvihill, who has been one of the prime movers in keeping the Summer Show on its feet, will be Executive Producer. Production and stage management will be shared between students and adult advisors; with as much responsibility as possible given to the students.

 
"Being in the show is a very special experience," said Jon Hall, "and it's a wonderful thing to do over the summer."

 
Wherever you are Kathe O'Connor, "break a leg!"

A Legacy of Dedication

Since 1972, hundreds  of Port teens have participated as cast members, musicians, ticket sellers, builders, painters, sound engineers, light board operators, props managers, stage hands, car washers, tag sale sellers, assistant costumers, ad sellers, promo designers, stage managers, and makeup artists!