East Falls: Old Academy Players is a Piece of Community History

Director J.P. Parrella was excited about that night's performance of his version of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
The historic building tucked away on Indian Queen Lane in East Falls may be easy to miss when driving down that small street, but that building now housing Old Academy Players theater is quite notable having stood for nearly 200 years.
Old Academy Players is set back and hidden behind shrubbery on Indian Queen Lane in East Falls.
Before becoming home to the theater this building housed a church, a school and a library.

Nancy Frick is the president of Old Academy Players and she’s been involved with the theater since 1986.

“I happened to be living on the street and one day I just walk in and said ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘We are putting on a show. Do you want to get involved?’ So that’s how it started for me.”

Frick’s love for this theater, the building and the acting company, is easily apparent.

“The building has been in East Falls since 1819. It’s where the first library started. The first school was started here that’s why it was called the Old Academy. Then in 1932 the building had been in disrepair for a long time and the building was pretty much just sitting here. That’s when the Old Academy Players came along. They had existed about ten years before that and they said they would take it over and rebuild it and they did. They have continued to be the building’s main source of care and love for 90 years. September will start our 90th season,” Frick said.

In addition to  the main theater there is another building next to the original building that also belongs to the Old Academy Players.

“The building next door is not quite as old but is also very ancient. It’s also a drain on our financial abilities as you can image. Between the two building its hard maintaining them on a nonprofit salary. It’s pretty daunting,” Frick said.

Director J.P. Parrella was excited about a recent performance of his version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

The main building functions in a variety of ways for the organization. The Old Academy Players rents out the building for banquets, birthday parties and gathering places for local groups such as the East Falls Business Development and the East Falls Town Watch. The theater is also gracious enough to give that space to other local theaters that are not fortunate enough to have their own rehearsal space. The Old Academy Players is a busy facility with some type of event going on almost every night.

The location is a little tough for the theater because it is slightly off the beaten track. This requires them to work a harder to attract patrons. But their subscriber base is loyal and comes back every year from places extending beyond the East Falls community.

“Do we wish we were more centrally located with a couple more things around us? Sure. But the community is reviving and we try to be a good partner. We’re from East Falls; this is who we are,” Frick said.

Leon Joshlin has been a member of the Old Academy Players since 1961. “I think we’ve improved with our productions and so forth. The building’s appearance is better. Particularly in the last 10 years there’s been a great deal of improvement,” Joshlin said.

Joshlin is optimistic about the theater and would like to see it grow becoming more of a vital part of East Falls. The theater depends mainly on contributions plus monies from its productions and rentals. It does not get too many grants so the members and staff have to make the best of  what they have.

“I think Old Academy Players helps improve the idealism of the community. I would like to see more East Falls residents attend the productions. Some of them attend it religiously but a lot of people just don’t know we exist. We want to try to get more community outreach,” Joshlin said.

The current production at Old Academy Players is A Streetcar Named Desire, the famous play written by Tennessee Williams.

The director for this production is J.P. Parrella, an enthusiastic, high-spirited man who’s been with Old Academy Players for 12 years. This production is his 10th with the theater but he has been directing for over 25 years.

Parrella is proud of his production and his interpretation of Williams’ play. “It’s all reality. It’s down to earth and it talks about all aspects of life: family, love, hate, jealousy and even rape,” Parrella said. “Fortunately, I’m lucky to have the four greatest actors I’ve ever gotten to work with,” Parrella said.

The audience talked while provided with cake and coffee during the show's intermission.

The theater’s members have reacted favorably to this production. The first night was sold out, ending with the audience providing a standing ovation. “This director is very happy. My head is very big everyone’s been making a joke out of it open the door let him in if he can fit his head through the door,” Parrella said.

Being the only theater in East Falls, the Old Academy Players wants to further capitalize on that distinction.

“My hopes for the theater are that we continue to grow and that we continue to be an important part of the community which also lends to our strength as a theater,” Frick said.

“We try to do outreach and try to be a good neighbor and make our facilities available. We try to help out anyone with a need and offer what we have and what we have is a theater.”

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