Priscilla Beach Theatre
SCROLL DOWN TO VIEW
8/17/1907 Albert Franklin Trask born in Boston Massachusetts.
Albert Franklin Trask graduates from Boston University with a degree in Education and takes a teaching job at the Frost School in Westford Massachusetts.
Franklin marries Agnes Hawley. At this time Agnes was Director of Music in the Broward County Florida public school system and was also helping a friend set up local talent shows.
Franklin & Agnes create a local talent business called New England Producing Company (later renamed to National Association of Dramatics). They set up shop in West Hartford, Connecticut . This venture ended in 1934 – "We had a competitor and were finally done in. They infiltrated us" – A. Franklin Trask 1996.
Trasks returns to Westford Massachusetts and converts a barn into a theatre. This new venture was called the National Little Theatre Guild.
Brochures were sent to colleges announcing their "Summer Colony and Workshop of the Theatre".
80 young men and women were enrolled the first summer.
The Trasks leave Westford seeking more fertile grounds for their Theatre Colony.
The Trasks buy land in Manomet Massachusetts known as the Old Taylor Estate for $12,500 on 10/15/1936.
"It included several buildings and a huge barn, and I decided to purchase it within five minutes of seeing it" – A. Franklin Trask 1996.
They converted the barn into a theatre and called it The Priscilla Beach Drama Festival. They followed the same format they had in Westford with student actors living on the premises, studying and taking part in all aspects of theatre.
James Lonigro was born in Chicago, Illinois.
Student enrollment had grown to 120 people.
The Trasks form the Boston Stock Company and rented Brattle Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts (The Brattle Street Theatre) to extend their summer season in Plymouth to a winter season in Cambridge.
This venture lasted until 1950 when the Brattle Street Theatre was sold out from under them.
Boston Globe (Parade Magazine 9/9/1945) – columnist Robert L. Wheeler sketched the activities at the Priscilla Beach Drama Festival which he called "a nationally known institution systematically shopped by talent scouts".
"Priscilla Beach gets the cream of the young acting talent of America… Applicants are carefully winnowed to keep out youngsters who have no serious bent for the stage. It has to be a good rugged ego that survives the course in theatrical realities offered by Dr Trask and a faculty of 14 instructors and directors."
Jim Lonigro has acting debut at age of 5 with the Jack and Jill Players (a well known drama school in Chicago).
Gloria Swanson at PBT as a guest artist.
Pat Carroll student at PBT (acclaimed stage and big screen actress).
Paul Newman student at PBT.
Robert MacNeil student at PBT (MacNeil/Lehrer PBS News Hour).
Jean Seberg student at PBT – "Not yet eighteen, she arrived in Plymouth from her small hometown in Iowa" – Jennings 2000.
Franklin Trasks temporarily moves theatre productions.
Convinced that the theatre would attract more patrons if it was more centrally located, he moved the productions to "The New Mayflower Summer Theatre", a theatre in the round that he built on route 3A in Manomet . Productions were returned to the barn the following season.
Jim Lonigro joins the Miramar Seminary in Duxbury Massachusetts after the priest from the seminary told him that the route from Chicago to Duxbury was via New York City.
"I knew that if I joined the seminary, I’d get to see Broadway on my way to see God, and that would be a dream come true".
Jim Lonigro quits the seminary.
Jim Lonigro graduates from American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
"Dr Trask had begun developing part of the theatre property into residential housing. The prospect of continuing in that direction looked promising and profitable so he decided to sell the Priscilla Beach Theatre and devote himself to real estate full time." - Preston Hanson (PBT, 1947) in his unpublished article, A Life: Dr A Franklin Trask.
James Lonigro & Leon Mehalick purchase PBT. Below is an excerpt from a 1996 Jim Lonigro interview describing his first viewing of the theatre:
“I arrived on a cold wintry day, snow several feet high. Dr Trask got out a secret key and led me in. There was no electricity, it was pitch dark inside. We stood on the stage with a flashlight he pointed to the wing area and the loft, on up into the fly area. He scanned the old seats, black everywhere except for the eerie, moving light. I was thrilled by the very idea that it could be mine, and almost without thinking I said, I’ll take it.’
Jim Lonigro performs as a guest artist in Ladies in Retirement at Marymount, a women’s college in Tarrytown , NY . There he meets Rosann Weeks, a drama major, and others whom he persuades to come to PBT to be part of that first summer.
6/26/1962 Jan deHartog’s The Fourposter opens the season and the ‘Jim , Leon & Rosann’ era.
Kitty Winn student at PBT (Exorcist & Cannes Film Festival award).
Rob Reiner student at PBT (TV, films & directing…).
Al Brooks student at PBT (TV, film, screenwriter, director…).
Jim & Leon buy the “white house” to use as living quarters. The previous few summers they had use the nearby Manomet Manor. The deal also included the property in front of the barn to use as a parking area.
Sheila Russell student at PBT (TV, films & directing).
Andrew Lack student at PBT (President of NBC News).
Veronica Lake at PBT as a guest artist.
Unable to generate much of a profit, PBT is sold to Mr Belfaunce of Akron Ohio . Jim & Leon hold the mortgage. The season was not successful.
PBT sold again to Mr Fernandes. The season was not successful.
PBT ownership return to Jim & Leon. Barn and white house renovated.
Rosann Weeks serves as the both producer and artistic director, with Victoria Fraser as co-producer and leading lady.
PBT rented to Mitchell Maxwell and Paul Harman, students at Tufts University who had produced musicals with an undergraduate group called "Torn Ticket". This group produced five musicals each 10 week summer season and produced high quality theatre for 3 seasons (1974-1976).
Jim Lonigro starts going by Geronimo Sands.
Bob Malone, A 13 year old neighborhood kid, starts hanging out at PBT. For the next 5 years he finds himself working on sets, cleaning the theatre after shows and onstage in many shows.
PBT rented to George Ela and Nancy McArthur. Both were active in the Hingham Massachusetts theatre community and they combined forces to form “Macandela Productions”. This group featured community theatre productions and lasted 2 seasons.
Ownership of theatre changes from Jim Lonigro & Leon Mehalick to Jim Lonigro & Anne Joelle Lonigro (Jim’s younger sister).
Anne Joelle takes charge of PBT’s season with an ambitious plan "Plymouth Arts One Festival" designed to turn PBT into a true performing arts center. The public had little interest in this overly ambitious plan and the next few seasons were a disappointment except for the Children’s Theatre Workshop.
Agnes H Trask died of complications from diabetes. Agnes was one of the most beloved figures in PBT history and served as a role model to many young actors in the 1930-1940s. As a memorial, Franklin Trask donates three buildings on a large track of ocean front land in Manomet to the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
Anne Joelle’s production team includes Geronimo, Marnie DeMarsh, Peg Holzemer, Ron Moran and 1966 alumni James (Max) Gorgal. Gorgal converts the actors dinner hall in the white house into a small "black box theatre" called LeStudio and PBT begins to operate year round.
PBT begins to focus primarily on children’s theatre workshops.
PBT Touring Company takes shape with the help of Mr Montagna. Over then next few years, this effort took PBT productions on tour to various towns in Massachusetts, England and France.
Andrew Nielson joins PBT staff and becomes an integral part of PBT operations for the next 20 years.
PBT begins a series of 15 hour-and-half programs on local cable TV titled "The State of the Arts with Geronimo Sands and his Friends".
Angelica Torn, daughter of Rip Torn and Geraldine Page joins PBT troupe for the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
Geronimo Sands takes leave from PBT to perform several roles in New York City. One role was Henry Albertson in The Fantasticks at the Sullivan’s Playhouse (the longest running musical in the history of the theatre).
Anne Joelle resigns from role of Producer of PBT since 1979 to pursue her computer art company in Long Island, NY. Ron Moran resigns from role as Business Manager after 20 years and moves to Washington State.
Geronimo performs his one-man show of THE WORLD OF CARL SANDBURG by Norman Corwin at the Grove Street Playhouse off-Broadway in Greenwich Village. Ernie Schenck, a 1962 PBT alumni produces and directs. September through December Tim and Kate Melody, PBT alumni, take over managerial duties for one season.
Andrew Nielson becomes Managing Director.
Last summer of operation in the famous "Barn" theatre. All productions are moved into the Studio Theatre at PBT where current workshops and productions are held.
PBT Founder, Dr. A.F. Trask, passes away in October. Alumni Ms. Pat Carroll and Buddy Piper deliver eulogies. Anne Joelle passes away.
Geronimo celebrates his 45th year performing THE WORLD OF CARL SANDBURG while also celebrating his 60th year as an actor.
Joanne Matalavage (’83 thru ’88) returns to PBT as set painter.
Ms. Jacqueline Jarrett returns to the PBT in August as Edna St. Vincent Millet. She appeared at PBT as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker" in 1962.
Mr. Nielson writes a grant to Entergy Corporation to help PBT produce dramatic workshops and hands-on theatre demonstrations throughout Plymouth County. Manomet Elementary School invites PBT, through a grant, to produce William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with grades three through five. GRADE SCHOOL MUSICAL!, starring the Dramatic School Players, written and composed by Andrew Nielson has world premiere in autumn.
Return to Manomet Elementary for an all-student workshop of an original play, THE FOUR DOROTHYS (a take on THE WIZARD OF OZ), written by Mr. Sands. In the spring he would write an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, called PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: BEHIND THE SCENES, as well as a new version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, which will open the theatre’s 73rd season of summer stock. Additionally, GRADE SCHOOL MUSICAL!, is scheduled to return by popular demand.
PBT is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Plymouth Cultural Council. Geronimo Sands and Andrew Nielson are guest actors in THE FANTASTICKS for Plymouth Community Theatre presented at Memorial Hall's Blue Room. Marnie DeMarsh Almirall and Peg Hozimer, original founding members of PBT's LeStudio in 1982, return to direct during PBT's summer stock season. PBT's World Premiere of A VERY MARY POPPINS by Geronimo Sands is a resounding success. PETER PAN is PBT's fourth production held at Manoment Elementary School. For the third year PBT is the recipient of a grant from the Betsy Pappas Charitable Foundation.
PBT's 75th Anniversary year. Geronimo Sands' 50th anniversary as Artistic Director of PBT. Andrew Nielson, Managing Director, celebrates his 25th year with PBT. LeStudio starts its 30th season in the Fall. On October 19th will be the 50th Anniversary performance of Mr. Sands' one-man show, THE WORLD OF CARL SANDBURG by Norman Corwin.
A new act begins at PBT…
Bob and Sandy Malone purchase PBT from Geronimo Sands and embark on a rebuild/restoration journey to preserve PBT for years to come.