Theater Close to Home – Philadelphia

Philadelphia is known for its rich history, but did you also know we’re known for our vibrant theater scene? Philly currently has fifty-one theater companies, the most in their broad history, as well as close to 1,000 Actors’ Equity Members. Despite the current financial difficulties that most American theater is facing, the community in Philadelphia continues to grow and thrive. One group, Theater Horizon, who made their reputation with their award winning production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, just opened a brand new theater this past November.

Philly is home of America’s oldest operating theater, the Walnut Street Theater. Since 1809, this theater has been the site of many legendary productions. From 1941 to 1969, it was owned by the Shubert Organization and was home to many pre-Broadway tryouts, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Diary of Anne Frank (1955) and A Raisin in the Sun (1959). They just recently announced their 204th Anniversary season, which includes the Philadelphia premiere of In The Heights!

Along with being the home of the country’s oldest theater, Philly also has a lot of premieres and tours coming through the area. Most recently, at Philadelphia Theater Company, we had the world premiere of Stars of David, a new musical written by Charles Busch. The production starred many New York names, including Alex Brightman and Donna Vivino. As of yesterday, the Catch Me If You Can tour just ended their run at The Academy of Music, and beginning in February, American Idiot will begin its run at the Merriam Theater.

Since 1994, Philly has had an annual award ceremony called the Barrymore Awards (named for the Barrymore family, who’s legacy began in Philadelphia), which are basically the Tony’s of Philadelphia. A board of voters reviews 120 different shows, and announce the winners at a huge gala.

A lot of big New York names have done theater here! Rob McClure (most recently seen in Chaplin) and Christopher Gattelli (Tony award winning choreographer of Newsies, director of Silence! The Musical) are both from the area, and are both have multiple Barrymore awards to their name.

Philadelphia theater is pretty unique and special. I asked local actress and Barrymore award winner Rachel Camp what she thinks makes Philly theater so unique:

“The theater scene in Philadelphia thrives as a cohesive and supportive community.  Though as in any theater scene there exists a certain level of competition in its strides for greatness, artists in Philadelphia are consistently generous, passionate, and committed to their part that makes up the whole.  It is a town bursting at the seams with artistic opportunities on every level of the professional spectrum, and the support on all sides is overwhelming and beautiful.”

As someone who wants to pursue theater as a career, I feel extremely fortunate to grow up in such a vibrant community. The ultimate goal for all performers is to perform on Broadway, but I know that even if I make in Philadelphia, it would be quite the achievement.

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