A BARN,A SILO AND A DREAM
In the spring of 1949, Edith Disney and her son, Will, discovered an old barn on the side of a lake in Washington County. An amiable farmer named Mr. McDowell agreed to lease the barn on his working farm to the Disneys for use as a space to present live stage plays. The original stage, surrounded by wooden folding chairs, was located in the center of the barn floor, forming the area’s first theater-in-the-round.
In June, 1949, a skeptical critic, F.S. Olmstead, wrote: “The Little Lake Theatre opened last week out at Donaldson’s Cross Roads, and provides an interesting experiment in theatre experience…For some reason they have chosen the idea of ‘central staging’…To be perfectly frank, its sole merit lies in novelty and on that basis alone it gets by. Its drawback is in the goldfish bowl appearance of the cast … It is something like attending a circus or tennis match—your head is constantly swinging from one side of the stage to the other as you try to follow the dialog…”
Two months later, in August 1949, in a follow-up article, Mr. Olmstead conceded: “The experiment of ‘arena staging’ has apparently proved most successful. Little Lake Theatre’s patronage has climbed every week since they opened, and just a week ago they had SRO on three nights, with over twenty standees Saturday!… There were many local doubters that [central staging] would be accepted in Pittsburgh, but the energetic and able director, Will Disney, stuck to his decision and has proved again that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ ”
Founding Director, Will Disney, and His Legacy
In the year 2000, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named Will Disney one of the region’s top ten most influential artists of the previous century, attesting to the importance and significance of Little Lake Theatre. But Will Disney’s legacy has not been in the form of a “place.” His gift has been in the form of a community. He created a community in which actors, directors, designers, volunteers and audience members support one another, learn from one another and very thoroughly enjoy one another.
Now, almost 70 years later, Little Lake Theatre Company continues to thrive under the direction of Will’s daughter and son-in-law, Sunny Disney and Robert Fitchett. Along the way, a remarkable 1512 actors have trod the mainstage boards in over 1000 productions.
In a recent Pittsburgh City Paper review, critic Ted Hoover wrote “For something quintessentially Pittsburgh, you can visit Little Lake Theatre, in Canonsburg… Little Lake is a celebration of Pittsburgh theater. Unlike tours or shows using out-of-town artists, Little Lake is all about showcasing local talent. As a bonus, it’s one of the area’s best community theaters.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Christopher Rawson wrote, “…In contrast to some other theaters, the audience is growing younger….And what’s happening on stage keeps getting better.”
And in an article by Doug Shanaberger, Washington Observer-Reporter: “Little Lake Theatre has, in recent years, made almost a game of reaching beyond what used to be perceived as limitations. Remember when the group staged William Luce’s ‘The Belle of Amherst,’ breathing life into one of the theater’s most problematic, least commercial forms—the one-woman play. Remember the eras and places conjured up in ‘The Voice of the Prairie,’ ‘Becoming Memories,’ ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ and ‘The Crucible,’ dramas that weren’t crafted for an in-the-round setting and were, nonetheless, realized to perfection at Little Lake….”
WQED OnQ: Little Lake Theatre Company
It started in a barn near Canonsburg Lake, back in 1949. Sixty years, scores of actors, and hundreds of quality productions later, Little Lake Theatre is now considered a community treasure. OnQ contributor Beth Dolinar reports.
The mission of Little Lake Theatre Company is dedicated to presenting a thoughtful, well-balanced offering of plays appealing to an audience of mixed social, economic, educational, and generational levels; providing comprehensive training and hands-on experience in theater arts to emerging, as well as experienced actors, designers, and technicians; involving the community in outreach programs designed to provide accessibility and to encourage appreciation of live theater.
This means that it is our mission is to present a variety of works including:
- classic American plays, comedies and drama;
- works that reflect themes and issues relevant to, and reflective of,
- works that will serve as a thought-provoking introduction to dramatic literature and, thereby, provide opportunities for families to attend;
- and plays that will serve as an entertaining introduction for new theater-goers and will serve as encouragement to attend future productions
- Eleven Mainstage productions;
- A summer Looking Glass Theatre series of three plays for young audiences currently celebrating its 40th anniversary season;
- Two Fall Family Matinee plays;
- Two sessions of Theatre Arts Summer Camp for children, grades 4-12;
- A comprehensive Apprentice Training Program for young adults ages 14-19;
- Classes for adults;
- Subscriber and community events;
- An educational outreach program that tours to area schools;
- An active Speaker’s Bureau that sends members of the theater company to speak or perform for civic and social organizations.
The Work of our Company
“My vision for Little Lake Theatre Company is to encourage our creative artists to produce work that has integrity, respect for the intelligence, spirit, aesthetics and heart of the audience—and for each other as artists—while communicating clearly and honorably the work of the playwright. This means that when the work is challenging it is also fulfilling and, with every new project, we aspire to learn and to grow as actors, directors, technicians and designers. And for our audience, it is our hope that our work provides experiences that are refreshing, educational and enriching.” — Sunny Disney Fitchett