Port Richmond: A Community Passionate About Theater

An album cover for the sountrack to the original broadway musical rendition of the Pajama Game.

An album cover for the sountrack to the original broadway musical rendition of the Pajama Game.

In 1984, a community theater was born in Port Richmond at the Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary parish.  Seven years later this company moved further down Allegheny Avenue towards the Delaware River to the Lithuanian Music Hall, 2715 E. Allegheny Avenue.  The Theatre Company of Port Richmond has been performing for audiences twice a year since its inception 27 years ago.  However, due to financial concerns in today’s rough economic climate, the TCPR will no longer present its annual fall shows.

Supplies used to decorate props sit a distance from the stage.

Jim McDermott, a graduate of DeSales University with a degree in theater and speech started at TCPR as an actor back in 1984.  McDermott has since become TCPR’s director. His duties include the process of selecting future acts.

“We have a board,” McDermott said.  “But we take suggestions from people in the company.  They’ll come up and say well what if we do this, why can’t we do that?  And we’ll talk about it.”

TCPR’s Spring 2011 selection is the Pajama Game, a story about the labor struggles of a pajama factory where workers demand a seven and a half-cent raise.  During the struggle, a new superintendent (Tony Gdonski) and the head of the grievance committee (Rachel Hrynczyszyn) develop a blossoming love.

Tony Gdonski (Sid) and Rachel Hrynczyszyn (Babe) performing.

McDermott said he keeps the actors in mind when choosing new material to ensure that there are roles easily filled by both adults and children.   TCPR embraces large numbers of children because this company feels they need to nourish the future of theater.

“A lot of the kids in this neighborhood, they can join sports teams, they can play,” McDermott said.  “But there’s no other outlets for kids who can’t play sports or don’t want to play sports.  They can come here, we welcome them.  We don’t charge them anything, there is no fee to join, we just ask that they help in the fund raising and get involved.”

In total the TCPR cast often exceeds 40 actors and actresses with an additional 20 people helping out in other areas such as lighting and stage crew.  The cast and crew come from all over Philadelphia, parts of Jersey and in the surrounding Pa suburbs.

A crew member begins painting a sign for the upcoming musical.

Many local children spend years at a time with TCPR and develop a passion for theater as they grow into lead roles.  One example is Rachel Hrynczyszyn who started performing with the company while she was in the seventh grade and still performs with the company since graduating from college.

 

“This Theater built my love for theatre and I built a career path for my life from here,” Hrynczyszyn said.

Hrynczyszyn currently teaches and directs children’s theater but plans to eventually start an adult production company where she would produce and perform modern material.

Tony Gdonski found his love for theater after failing at his major of math in college.  After switching to theater, Gdonski had stuck with it and performed in community theaters as well as extra roles in some movies.

Cast assess new props (left) while others begin rehearsing (rear).

Gdonski loves theater but has found work outside of acting. “I gotta eat,” Gdonski said.  “So I work full time and I do this for fun.”

McDermott praised his theater for surviving while many others could not.

“There is other professional theater in Philadelphia, it’s one of the best areas for professional theater,” McDermott said.  “But there’s not really that much community theater around anymore.  There have been some, but they don’t stick with it.  What we’ve learned to do was to adapt.”

McDermott hopes that when he is not able to contribute anymore someone else will step up into his place.

A half complete window prop for the Pajama Game musical.

“I think it would be a sad day for me if it ever ended.”

 

Soundslide featuring Mary Beth Hrynczyszyn…