The History Of The Pennsylvania Playhouse
The community theater, known today as Pennsylvania Playhouse, presently located on Illicks Mill Road in the City of Bethlehem, was incorporated in 1946. Prior to that date, its beginnings took its form from Plays and Players in 1926, Bethlehem Civic Theater in 1938 and in the 40's as the Drawing Room Theater. In 1963 the theater became part of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Project and its building on Old York Road had to be demolished. The City of Bethlehem made land on Illicks Mill Road available to the group on a 99 year $1.00 lease. A fund raising drive was launched. In May 1965, ground was broken and in October of the same year, the new 180 seat theater opened its first production under the new name of Pennsylvania Playhouse.
The theater grew and prospered in its new location until December 31, 1974 when a fire destroyed the stage, auditorium, costumes, scenery and electrical equipment. Continued Playhouse operation was made possible by Northampton County Area Community College's generous offer to let the Playhouse use its South Campus Theater. The college's stage was used for the next three productions of the 1975 season while the Illicks Mill Road structure was rebuilt, eliminating the former proscenium stage and adopting the thrust type stage patrons of the Pennsylvania Playhouse still enjoy today. In 1977 a 2,500 square foot addition was built with funds raised through public subscription and proceeds from continuously successful productions. In 1999, the Pennsylvania Playhouse increased the comfort level for their patrons by gutting the auditorium and installing new seats and carpeting throughout.
The Pennsylvania Playhouse has survived all of these years on its box office revenues, with occasional public subscriptions to meet major emergencies. It has never depended on grants or subsidies. Pennsylvania Playhouse is a nonprofit organization, opened to everyone, and operated entirely by dedicated volunteers.