In 1971, my grandfather and grandmother, Cyril and Roberta Porthouse, initiated a challenge grant with Gerald and Victoria Read for a small outdoor theatre on the grounds of Blossom Music Center outside Kent, Ohio. The theatre would come to be known as the Porthouse Theatre.
My grandfather, a fairly stoic gentleman and all engineer, was my mentor. In my #LoveWhatYouDo interview, I speak about his direction, the direction that caused me to pursue the field of architecture. A chemical engineer, and although a strategic thinker, he was not what you would describe as a “creative.” My grandmother, on the other hand, was all about the fine arts. She loved dance, music, art, sculpture, and fashion. She talked my grandfather into this challenge gift, as she wanted to be part of something bigger than her, and of them. She loved attending the theater, especially musical theater, with its wonderful songs, dance numbers, pace, and talented actors. She was thrilled to be a part of this summer outdoor theatre, and my Papa could not resist her persistence and gave into making the gift.
My grandmother’s love for Porthouse Theatre has inspired the next three generations of our family. And how could it not? Each year, on a beautiful summer evening (well, there are the occasional rain showers, wind gusts, and heat waves) we attend the show. We are transported from our daily routine, work, school, laundry, bills, and other stressors, to the world the talented actors at Porthouse create for us. We become one of the 76 trombones, ride in the surrey with the fringe on top, say hello to Dolly, and are side by side with Tracy during the Corny Collins dance contest. For more than two hours we are mesmerized by the personalities, the antics, the emotion, the struggles, and the relatability of the characters. We are inspired, re-energized by the creative expression.
In his 2013 TedX talk, Mike Issacson, artistic director & executive producer for The Muny, St. Louis’s own outdoor musical theatre, speaks about the “The Power of Musicals.”
Mike describes musical theatre as the combination of storytelling, dance, music, acting, fashion, and the art museum-like stage sets. At first glance, combining all these characteristics in one event seems a bit crazy. Why would you combine all this stuff? But we do it, and it works, just how many of PGAV’s destinations combine so many different elements of performance, education, and entertainment. Each of the pieces come together to create something larger than the sum of its parts. Everyone and everything comes together – the story, the cast, and the audience. We all feel it – together.
Terri Kent, the artistic director of the Porthouse Theatre, always says the theatre is not complete without the audience. Our being there is more than simply attending. We become the final piece of the performance. It is not complete without us, just as PGAV’s destinations are incomplete without the guests.
We share time together as a family with good friends. The trip this year was bittersweet, as this was the first year attending without my dad, who passed away in December of 2016. He loved the Porthouse. He tasks us with continuing Bobby and Cy’s legacy and vision. He was smiling down on us while we watched this year’s presentation. We cannot resist his directive to continue this tradition. We have all fallen in love with what musicals and this theatre does for each of us, for our family, and for the larger community.
Next season will be the 50th anniversary of the Porthouse Theatre. A great milestone. We plan to see a show again next summer, be inspired, and remain part of the Porthouse Theatre Family for many years to come.