Leaving Central PA Theater

A Fond Farewell To The Community That Fostered A Love Of The Theater In My Kids

Today’s Guest Blog post is by Barbara Trainin Blank

BarbaraTrainin Blank


Ever find yourself saying to your kids, “Just wait till you’re a parent”? (If not, you’re probably a saint. Or perhaps you’re not being honest with yourself. 🙂

And how often, when you use this phrase, do you mean something positive?

I’d venture to say that most of the time we intend to say, “Just wait till you have a kid who drives you as crazy as you drive me.”

Well, today I’d like to redirect the phrase into a term of appreciation. I’d like to say to my kids (long distance, in two different places): “Just wait till you have kids so you can do with them all the things I did with you. So you can take them to all the wonderful places and events I took you to–like theater in central Pennsylvania.”

Oh, I know you won’t be living here. Neither will I. In a few weeks we’ll be on our way to the DC area. But the memories will linger on. Theater-specific memories, among them.

Forgive me if I repeat myself from another blog, but there is the memory of the first musical I saw with my kids–“The Secret Garden” at Theatre Harrisburg. Besides jointly developing a crush on the lead, (wish I could remember his name), they had different reactions: Helena climbed over seats to the amusement of the other patrons; she was never one to sit still. Cynthia sat glued to her seat, mesmerized by an art form she would later study in college. But love it they both did.

There was the time Helena insisted on coming with me to see “Veronica’s Room” (an Ira Levin work) at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in theater, and she had nightmares for two weeks. It was also a compelling production featuring Brian Schreffler and other wonderful actors. When she got over the fear and I got over the guilt, we both agreed on that. But we often recall the fear as well…

On a brighter note, we all loved LTM’s production of “The Fantasticks,” perhaps the first “small musical” my kids caught. Years later, they found walking along Sullivan Street in Manhattan, where it had all started, particularly exciting, because: a) they had seen the show; b) they loved Jerry Orbach. Who didn’t?

Cynthia still cites “The Unexpected Guest” at Oyster Mill Playhouse, with Tony Leukus, as one of her favorites–and as kind of rebuke to anyone who assumes community theater is “amateurish.” Of course, she also had to love “Summer and Smoke” at OMP. It was her first speaking part in community theater (thank you, director Fran Horkowitz).

Of course, we got many laughs–and much joy–from their participation in Jewish Community Center productions (thank you, the late, dear Sharon Hillegas). Helena enjoyed being one of the other women in “Annie Get Your Gun” to be hugged by Frank Butler (played by Ryan Boyles), and Cynthia was transported to Czarist Russia as Tevye’s youngest daughter in “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was her first speaking role–two lines.

There was the first time I took both girls (without husband) to see Shakespeare in the Park and got lost afterward trying to drive our way out of the park. Can’t recall the play, only the embarrassment. More recently Cynthia, as a young woman, gave me a solid critique of “Romeo and Juliet,” and years ago Helena delighted in “A Year with Frog and Toad.”

Helena was probably one of the oldest kids to attend Popcorn Hat Players productions, till her height eventually made her self-conscious (though it didn’t dampen her enthusiasm).

We attended “A Christmas Carol” and “The Diary of Anne Frank” numerous times at Open Stage, but also “The Belle of Amherst,” among other mainstage productions. Ironically, the play about Emily Dickinson “lost” a young Cynthia, now a published poet. We all laughed at “Room Service,” which only whetted our appetites for the Marx Brothers movie again.

I remember the thrill hearing them say they preferred Theatre Harrisburg’s production of “Into the Woods” to the filmed version with Bernadette Peters, even though she was of their favorites–ever since their grandparents had taken them to see “Annie Get Your Gun” with her in New York. I remember Cynthia expressing it as, “Live theater is better.”

On the other hand, a more-mature Helena (than at “Secret Garden”) sat through the entire filmed version of “South Pacific,” in the Lincoln Center revival, without taking too many breaths or moving a muscle. What a marvelous production we wish we had caught live. Speaking of Rodgers and Hammerstein, I had to “drag them” to see “Oklahoma” at Fishing Creek Playhouse because of the stilted film. The response? “What great songs.”

The last show Cynthia and I saw here before she took off for study abroad was one we were hesitant about. Before we saw it, that is. But we figured, “Hey, it’s Theatre Harrisburg. They can’t go wrong with musicals.” Well, they didn’t, and we were wowed, both by “Urinetown” and the production. We left Whitaker on Theater Cloud 9.

It was a special delight to have both my girls home to see a short play of mine done at the JCC through Senior Theater of LTM (again, thank you, Fran). We had come a long way, to the point that they were able to critique me fairly, but laugh “at the right places.”

They don’t have the same taste, and they’re very different kids–well, young adults. Helena used to wish she had her sister’s courage to go onstage, and Cynthia used to wish she could sing like her sister. Yet, Cynthia managed to do fine in her high-school production of “Grease” (as Rizzo)–sanitized, though it was–and Helena sings a lot more comfortably in front of people than she used to, whether in karaoke or just whenever she feels like it.

They do share a love of live theater. Even with our strong family tradition, they might not have come to that without the exposure. That exposure happened largely in this area. Thank you, central Pennsylvania. Looking forward to the rich theater scene of Greater DC, but will miss what’s here. We are eternally grateful for what we and they have gained here.


Barbara Trainin Blank is a contributing writer to many national and local publications, including The Patriot-News and The Carlisle Sentinel. Visit her at A Blank Page Writing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Barbara has been a supporter of Kids Theatre News from the time it was just an idea.  I can’t thank her enough for all the kindness and enthusiasm she has shown us and kids theatre in general.  We will miss her and wish her and her husband the very best as they open their next act!