What is Centre Stage?
Penn State Centre Stage is the professional arm of the Penn State School of Theatre and serves as the training program for young theatre professionals embarking in the entertainment industry. One of Centre Stage's unique attributes is that it combines professionals with theatre students from Penn State and other colleges and universities. Each production is produced from conception to completion at Penn State using skills mastered and taught by theatre faculty who have worked professionally in the business. And as a result, Penn State School of Theatre is one of the top ranked universities in the country for its Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts theatre programs.
The Evolution of Penn State Centre Stage
By Amy Milgrub Marshall
Penn State has a long history of presenting professional theatre, in venues ranging from a renovated barn to a former cattle-judging arena to a new facility in the heart of downtown State College. While the players and places have changed, one thing has remained constant—a commitment to bringing together amateur and professional actors to present high-quality performances for local audiences.
Theatre at Penn State took another step forward in 2011, when Pennsylvania Centre Stage, the School of Theatre’s summer professional theatre company, was extended to a year-round season and renamed Penn State Centre Stage (PSCS). PSCS now presents five to six professional shows each year, featuring guest actors, directors, producers, and choreographers who collaborate with and mentor Penn State students during all aspects of production. “Off Centre” productions, formerly known as Studio Productions, complement the regular season and include the annual Dance Concert and Cultural Conversations, a news works festival focused on issues of local and global diversity.
Professional theatre at Penn State dates back to the late 1950s, when Walt Walters, head of the theatre department—and namesake for the Walters Courtyard, outside the Theatre Building—learned that an old barn housing a small theatre was for sale in Huntingdon County. After discussions with Albert Christ-Janer, director of what was then the School of the Arts, and prominent community members Laura and Marlin “Mattie” Mateer, the Mateers agreed to purchase the barn-theatre and donate it to Penn State. Previously called the Standing Stone Playhouse, the theatre was renamed the Mateer Playhouse.
In 1958, Walters brought Max Fischer from the American Theatre Wing in New York to teach theatre at Penn State and direct summer productions at the Mateer Playhouse. The theatre company, which included professionals Fischer had brought with him from New York, Penn State students, and local talent, presented a new play each week. The summer productions quickly gained a loyal following, with the company performing for a full house each night. However, by 1962, the old barn that housed the Mateer Playhouse began to show its age, so the theatre festival made plans to move on campus to the Pavilion Theatre—a former cattle-judging arena—located at the corner of Shortlidge and Curtin roads.
The Festival Theatre, as it became known, presented its first season in the Pavilion in 1963 (the theatre, with 300 seats and an extended-thrust stage, was renovated in 2009). In 1965, the festival began to also present plays in the Playhouse, a 385-seat proscenium theatre in the new Arts Building (in 2010, the building was renovated—including the theatre—and renamed the Theatre Building).
The Festival Theatre continued its summer offerings through 1985, when it was replaced by Pennsylvania Centre Stage (PACS).
Pennsylvania Centre Stage quickly became integrated into the School of Theatre, evolving into the mentoring program that remains the hallmark of Penn State Centre Stage. Today Penn State Centre Stage continues to be funded by subscriptions and private donations. Patrons at higher giving levels have the opportunity to attend special behind-the-scenes events with directors and performers. Dan Carter, director of the School of Theatre since 1995, serves as Penn State Centre Stage’s producing artistic director. A community advisory board works with PSCS to generate support from local residents. Venues include the Playhouse, Pavilion, and the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, which opened in 2003.For more information, visit theatre.psu.edu.