People Who Inspire: Brad Geyer on “The Little Theater That Could”

Brad on stage

In 2005, Brad Geyer, picked up the newspaper and read a story about a local theater company that was changing its name in an uphill struggle to survive.

Bearing the weight of upkeep and low attendance, the board of directors of Scottdale Showtime Theatre chose to take the venue back to its historic heritage to be called The Geyer Performing Arts Center.

“I didn’t know why my family name was attached to the theater, so I paid a visit to the manager, Tina, to find out,” said Brad.

The Connellsville City Councilman discovered that Tina was a cousin he didn’t know he had. It was also revealed that in 1900 his fifth generation grandmother, Catherine, commissioned the building of the Geyer Opera House as a social venue in this once prosperous western Pennsylvania community.

He remarked, “I learned about my family history, including that my uncle, Andrew Geyer, was the architect. Tina said to me, ‘Brad, you need to join the board. This is our heritage.’

Like the classic children’s story about a little train engine that answered the call to carry a heavy load of good things over a mountain with the words, “I think I can, I think I can,” Brad took on the challenge.

The Uphill Climb

He accepted the invitation to join in February 2006 and in 2009 became president of the Board of The Geyer Performing Art Center, a 501(c3) non-profit organization.

Brad commented, “Actors and Artists of Fayette County is the resident theater company. Our biggest challenge was letting the artists thrive while we paid the bills. The first show I did in March of 2006 was “Fools” by Neil Simon. Nine people came to the show and they were all family members of one of the actors.

We had all put so much work into that show. So we started looking at different strategies on how to promote the theater.”

Gaining Steam

A member of the Connellsville Lions Club, Brad came up with an “out-of-the-box” idea to give tickets to area service clubs, he said, “for the sole purpose of bringing people into the theater.

We enacted a strategic plan doing fundraisers that included murder mysteries and dinner cabarets. It was a very grassroots effort to pull people to see the theater in a different way. And we listened to the ideas of the production staff. A director wanted to do two musicals in the summer – one with kids. So we did.

That’s when we discovered the more people that got involved, the more people that came,” said Brad.

Today, hundreds of people are involved with the theater throughout the year and at least one show is produced each month. Half of the musicals and plays are produced by the Actors and Artists of Fayette County (AAFC) and the other by the theater (GPAC).

Building Momentum

“With a warehouse filled with costumes and props, a basement filled with re-used wood and wall panels that are painted over for each show, we use our resources wisely.

We are all volunteers. For a play like a “Family Reunion to Die for”, shown this past weekend, we had 40 different people touching it. “Shrek – The Musical” had 100 different people involved. They give their time and talent for the love of the craft.”

He added, “Community theater offers a creative outlet for people and is so accepting of anyone. Some of our volunteers sew, some paint. No matter what you’re good at – If you can run a vacuum, answer calls, build sets – we have a place for you.”

Staying on Track

Planning for the theater season begins by putting a call out for directors. “They come up with an idea of something they want to produce and then submit their proposal. We look for a well-rounded season with shows that please everyone – a general audience, kids, as well as the artists.

The average royalty cost to produce a musical is $1,500 – $1700 and $300 – $400 to produce a play. Community support makes it happen. It’s all about partnerships,” he said.

The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, and Fay-Penn Economic Development Council’s “Buy Local Network” are among the The Geyer Performing Arts Center partnerships.

So is the Community Foundation of Fayette County, PA, which awarded the theater a Chevron Community Fund grant in 2012 to build permanent sets and costuming for the ballet “The Nutcracker”. Brad remarked, “Because of this grant, we can put on this very successful show annually, without incurring a cost.”

People on Board

Realizing that the future of The Geyer Performing Arts Center depends upon a growing acting community, the theater established an education department. Directed by Kat Post, the educational programs have grown from summer camps for kids to now also offering an after-school program.

Brad explained, “Kids ages 5-15 can come to the theater for (GASP!), our free Geyer after school program, held every Tuesday. They’ll learn how to sing, dance, act and how to overcome stage fright, create costumes, build props and more.

No matter what you’re doing life, you’re auditioning for something. The lessons they learn transcend whatever career path they choose. And students who have participated in our programs have gone on to become leads in their high school musicals.”

The efforts of all those involved with The Geyer Performing Arts Center have paid off. Last year, 8,000 people came into the theater, virtually doubling their attendance in the past few years.

“That’s a real testament, and very humbling, to know that even in the middle of a recession people want to spend money on local theater.”

To celebrate every season and the hard work that goes into presenting it, “The Tottie Awards” named after Marilyn K. Keefer, one of the instrumental people in establishing the theater is held. It’s our version of the Oscars.”

I Knew We Could

The biggest reason we keep going is that we take suggestions from people. We listen to each others opinions and ideas. That’s what our theater’s board has been great at doing. Our education program grew from a summer camp to become an after school program. Now we’re starting a show choir.

Brad commented, “We don’t hear an idea and say, ‘it can’t be done. We say, ‘how can we make that work?’”

In this story of persistence, hard work and passion is what drives them.

As the curtain opened recently on The Geyer Performing Arts Center’s 26th season, Scottdale’s little Off-Broadway theater seemed to say, ‘I knew we could, I knew we could.’

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