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4:51 min July 08, 2024

Shawnee Playhouse | Pocono Mountains

Step inside one of Pennsylvania's most historic performance venues, Shawnee Playhouse, which is hosting a variety of shows for all ages this summer.

From rehearsing for a show with an all-kids cast and student crew to a full house days later for My Fair Lady - The Musical, the stage stays busy at the Shawnee Playhouse.

David Arzberger is a second grade teacher by day, taking center stage by night. “Shawnee Playhouse is definitely like a home, a family. You have your day job, come here at the end of the evening, and everything melts away. You can just be the character,” he explained.

Sarah McCarroll has a similar story as a school psychologist with a passion for performing. She said, “Shawnee Playhouse is very special. The connection you can feel with the actors and audience is very palpable.”

This unique and intimate venue hosts a variety of year-round shows for kids, adults, and families. There are also sensory-friendly performances for an inclusive experience. It's a place where the area's top talent and those in training come together as one.

“We have a children's theater program and children’s camps, a cabaret series we perform, adult productions, Tony award-winning plays, all sorts of Pulitzer Prize work we do with scripts from New York City. Classics, brand new works, original works, there really is a huge gamut,” explained Midge McClosky, executive director.

Downstairs, the original black box theater designed for smaller acts is now used for read-throughs, storing set pieces, and preparing costumes. Speaking of costumes, there are thousands of pieces representing every era. We also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the set construction area and the prop shop.

“Here are your dishes, flowers, there's about a million canes, flags, bottles, books. I know it looks messy, but it's actually organized chaos,” laughed McCarroll.

The Shawnee Playhouse was built in 1904 by C.C. Worthington, who also constructed the iconic Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort down the road. Originally called Worthington Hall, this building was a gift to the community and served as a town hall. A group of local actors and actresses known as The Shawnee Players also performed here until World War Two.

In 1943, Fred Waring purchased both properties and renamed this the Shawnee Playhouse. Known as ‘the man who taught America how to sing,’ Waring and his nationally known band, the Pennsylvanians, held choral workshops and recorded their famous radio show from the Shawnee Playhouse.  

“When I explain who Fred Waring is to a younger generation, I always say we wouldn't have American Idol or any of those television shows without Fred Waring. He was really the very first live entertainment television show before The Lawrence Welk show, before Heehaw, before Ed Sullivan, it was the Fred Waring show,” McClosky said.

The Kirkwood family, who now own the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, also took ownership of the Shawnee Playhouse in 1978. At that point, it was vacant and in disrepair. The Kirkwood’s restored the Playhouse and had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places, until an arsonist destroyed it all. With community support, the community theater was rebuilt and is celebrating its 45th season!

“Much of the theater that is performed in this area has to be done at a high school or college. We are one of the few venues that is specifically a theater within an hour radius, so that makes it really unique for us,” McClosky explained.

Tickets are affordable, and whether sitting in the seats or singing on stage, actor and audience involvement help keep history and the arts alive here.

“The moment I step on this stage, I pretend that I’m on Broadway and give the best performance to these lovely audience members here,” Arzberger smiled.

Because here at the Shawnee Playhouse, no matter what, the show must go on.