History of the Scranton Public Theatre
The Scranton Public Theatre was founded in the Fall of 1978. Dedicated to the professional development of the arts in Northeastern PA, the theatre’s history is trumpeted by a major summertime theatre festival, acclaimed productions dedicated to the telling of the region’s great history, new playwrights projects for established and aspiring writers, as well as successful productions in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Harrisburg, PA, and the Pocono Mountains. Scranton Public Theatre programs have played in almost every senior high school, elementary school, college, and university in a seven county area of NEPA. Along the way, the theatre has worked with Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning writers Jason Miller, “That Championship Season”, Stephen Karam, “The Humanz”, and Frank McCourt, “Angela’s Ashes”.
In 1991-1992, the theatre produced, in courtroom #253 of Philadelphia’s City Hall, a production of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s famous play “Inherit the Wind”, starring Oscar nominated actor Jason Miller (The Exorcist) and noted author and actor Malachy McCourt. The play was named “best play of the year” by the Philadelphia drama critics and ran for 6 months. Both Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee served as consultants for the show. Jason Miller also served as the theatre’s artistic director for 16 years until his untimely death in 2001.
Recently, the theatre has devoted a great deal of attention to educational programs in high schools and to the development of new works. Tom Flannery’s “The Last Thoughts of Gino Merli” is one of these plays and tens of thousands of people have seen it.
In the spring of 1996, “The Appointment”, a 30 minute play concerning positive interaction for physicians office staffs and patients with disabilities was broadcast on public television WVIA throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was written and produced by Scranton Public Theatre, Allied Services, and the PA Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.
The Children’s Theatre Repertory of Northeast PA was the first children’s theatre touring company in PA’s Northeast Region. Theatre summer camps for students were a regular part of SPT’s programming for two decades.
In 1982, SPT became the first theatre in our region’s history to pay its actors, contracting many Actor’s Equity and non-Equity performers over the years.
Scranton Public Theatre also produced many plays that highlighted the rich history of NEPA.
“Nobody Hears a Broken Drum” by Tony Award Winner Jason Miller, an epic play about the Molly Maguires and the early history of the Anthracite Coal Industry.
“Coal Town Breaker” by Michael Cotter. Loosely based on the Sheppton Mine Disaster, which was the 9th biggest story in the world in 1963. The play was named the Official Bi-Centennial play for the State of PA in 1976.
All three of these plays are part of “Anthracite”, an anthology of plays about the Anthracite Region, produced by Penn State professor Philip Mosley. They were published in 2006 by the University of Scranton Press.
“The Fire Down Below” by Jack McDonough and Bob Shlesinger, which told the story of the hearings surrounding the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. The 2002 production celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Great Strike and was performed in the actual courtroom where the hearings took place. The play was a great success and was later performed at the Scranton Cultural Center and the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, where thousands of students learned about this important part of Pennsylvania’s history.
The Pennsylvania Summer Theatre Festival
The Festival was one of the premiere summertime cultural attractions for 21 years in the NEPA Region. Later on, it became known as the Jason Miller Summer Theatre Festival. The Theatre Festival began at the Montage Ski Area in 1987 under a 250-seat state of the art theatrical tent. Later on, it grew into 2 facilities, one located in Lackawanna County’s McDade Park and the other at the Hanlon’s Grove Amphitheatre in Scranton’s Nay Aug Park. A flood destroyed the tent in McDade Park in the warehouse where it was stored in 2006 and a severe ice storm took down the facility in Nay Aug Park in 2007.
These two “Acts of God” literally ended a two-decade-long summertime attraction attended by thousands and thousands of people annually.
Nay Aug Park
Since 2008, the theatre continued to produce established works at theatrical spaces in the Scranton area while devoting a great deal of attention to educational programs in high schools and to the development of new plays.
Scranton Public Theatre also played a major role in the development of the Scranton Jazz Festival, a premiere musical event in August that features world-class jazz performers both from the region and from all over the world. The Festival began in 2005 and continues to the present.
Major jazz artists such as Stanley Clarke, The Manhattan Transfer, Blood Sweat and Tears, The Average White Band, Freddy Cole, Randy Brecker, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Shemekia Copeland, Phil Woods, and Chuck Mangione to name a few, have played at the Scranton Jazz Festival.
In its 40 year history, the Theatre has reinvested well over $7 million dollars into the Northeast PA economy and over 650,000 people have seen our presentations whether they be on film, TV, or on the stage.