After 96 years, troupe still puts it all together

Posted: October 12, 2003

MIDDLETOWN — The former Middletown firehouse was a hub of activity as the Rose Valley Chorus and Orchestra stage manager and crew put the final touches on scenery, chorus members warmed up, and actors reviewed dialogue.

That's the way it has been since the spring, when members of the 96-year-old nonprofit organization began work on Me and My Girl, scheduled to open Friday. Controlled chaos, a sense of everyone and everything coming together, is the attraction for Bob Allen, the stage manager.

"I like the fact that we have a hundred people, all in different places, all doing different things, and they come together for the show," said Allen, 65, of Rosemont. "Every time we do a show, it's like a little miracle."

The Rose Valley Chorus and Orchestra, with about 150 members from all five Philadelphia-area counties, New Jersey and Delaware, is the longest continuously running Gilbert and Sullivan company in America, said Robin Greene, group historian.

At 8 p.m. Friday, the curtain is scheduled to rise for the company's production of Me and My Girl, the Tony Award-winning comedy, at the DeMoss Center of the Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square.

The all-volunteer organization began in 1904 when Rose Valley resident Will Walton organized concerts performed by Philadelphia musicians who had moved to the Media area. In 1907, the group held its first performance, The Mikado, in Artsman's Hall of Rose Valley, now known as Hedgerow Theatre, said Ellie Hurd, 68, of Moylan, secretary.

From 1907 through 1959, the group performed a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and a Christmas show every year. Since 1960, it has done a Broadway musical or light opera and continued with a Gilbert and Sullivan show each year, Hurd said.

During the 1960s, the group's orchestra was formed and grew to the current 35 members. Set building and storage rotated through member homes until the group purchased the former Middletown firehouse in 1997, Hurd said.

Where fire engines once stood are shelves and closets, and there's a second-floor loft filled with costumes, sets and dozens and dozens of props. Joyce Malin, 60, of Swarthmore, oversees the props, dresses the set, and works on the stage crew on the night of the show.

"I'm not a stage person," Malin said, standing near a collection of dinnerware, fake swords and breakaway violins. "I go to lots of yard sales, I borrow props, and some things we need are made by members. The most unusual prop request was a bearskin rug; I found one."

Six women working 48 hours a week since May 1 created costumes for the production, said M.J. Clark, 66, of Marple, who directs the sewing.

"I cannot act, and my children have forbidden me to sing, so I sew," Clark said with a smile. "This is my charity. . . . I love the friendships I have made through the theater."

Shows are selected by board members, said group president Mary Beth Dostillio of Glen Mills. The company does six performances of each show with an average audience size of about 220, she said.

A member for 10 years, Dostillio, 46, said stage fright during her first show almost sent her from the theater chorus back to her church choir.

"My knees were shaking, but now I'm fine," Dostillio said. "I realized no one was looking at me; they are watching the lead. As long as I am not the lead, I'm fine."

Elizabeth Knecht, 32, of Drexel Hill, is a lead actress and choreographer for Me and My Girl. A teacher at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, Knecht devotes three nights a week to Rose Valley shows.

"I love to sing, I love to act, and I love being part of the energy of the community," Knecht said. "The work is worth every minute because everyone in the group wants the show to be a success."

The group's collaborative spirit allows Steven Pollack, 51, of Mullica Hill, to serve as director.

"I'm not afraid to insult people, and I'm not afraid to be insulted," Pollack said, and he smiled as he voiced the second reminder of the evening to request silence from the stage crew and chorus.

"Seriously, the great part about theater is to have a vision and watch talented people make the vision come true."

Send Arts news to Gloria A. Hoffner, The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa, 19428; e-mail it to PAarts@phillynews.com; or fax it to 610-313-8227. Contact Gloria A. Hoffner at 610-313-8006 or gloriah@phillynews.com.

The Rose Valley Chorus and Orchestra will present Me and My Girl at 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 p.m. Oct. 24;

and 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at DeMoss Center, Delaware County Christian School, 462 Malin Rd., Newtown Square.

For ticket prices and more information, call 610-565-5010

or visit www.rvco.org.

Special Events

Craft Shows, Sales & Bazaars

Free admission unless noted.

Harvest Market Handmade rugs, crafts, decorations, pottery, dolls, more. Brandywine River Museum, Rte 1, Chadds Ford; 610-388-2700. www.brandywinemuseum.org. Free with regular admission: $6; $3 seniors, students & ages 6-12; younger free. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sats & Suns to 10/19.

Book Sale Used & collectible books, videos. Media Borough Municipal Center, 4th St btwn Jackson & Monroe Sts, Media; 610-566-1918. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat, 10/19-20.

Multicultural Food Festival Sample dishes from various cultures. Bring a cultural dish. First Presbyterian Church, 4th & Main Sts, Darby; 610-522-0142. Free. 2-4 p.m. Sat.

Trips

Registration required.

Delaware Co Athletes Hall of Fame 610-892-9767. Baseball Hall of Fame. $339. 11/7-9.

Nativity Seniors Nativity BVM Church, Franklin & Monroe Sts, Media; 610-627-1037. Ireland. Approx $1,700. 10/17-25.

St Bernadette Social Club Bond & Turner Aves, Drexel Hill; 610-789-8711 or 610-789-5813. Casino trips. 9/15, 10/13, 11/10 & 12/8. "Guido's Wedding" show in Paterson, NJ. 10/17. Call for cost, time, other details.

St Kevin's Pioneers 610-461-6260. Ocean City, MD. $165. 12/9-10. Hamptons, Long Island. $380. 10/19-21. San Antonio, TX. $1,175. 4/12-17 2004.

St Mary Magdalen Senior Explorers Sponsors trips to various destinations. 610-359-0931. Show in New York, Hairspray. 10/15. Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. 11/19. Call for travel information, prices.

The Travel Club Lawrence Park Shopping Center, Lawrence Park; 610-356-0344. Renault Winery & Casino. 10/26. Foxwood Casino. 11/9-10. Radio City Christmas Show in New York City. 12/7. Call for departure information, prices.

Art Exhibits

*NEW* Art League Penn Medicine at Radnor, 250 King of Prussia Rd, Radnor; 610-859-0765. Juried members' show, mixed media. Opening recepton 5-7 p.m. 10/23. Closes 1/24.

Brandywine River Museum Rtes 1 & 100, Chadds Ford; 610-388-2700. www.brandywinemuseum.org. Art of the American West: 19th & 20th century paintings, sculptures. Closes 11/23. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sats-Suns through 10/19. NC Wyeth house & studio tours. $3 additional; ages 6 & over only. Timed intervals Weds-Suns through 11/23. $6; $3 students, seniors; free ages under 6. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily.

Darlington Arts Center 977 Shavertown Rd, Boothwyn; 610-358-3632. Martha Huggins, watercolors, colored pencil paintings. Closes 10/31.

Haverford College Cantor Fitzgerald, 370 Lancaster Ave, Haverford; 610-896-1287. Hiroshi Iwasaki, theater sets & costumes. Closes 10/26.

Swarthmore Borough Hall 121 Park Ave, Swarthmore; 610-328-0510. Group show, photography. Closes 10/27.

Swarthmore College List, Lang Performing Arts Center, 500 College Ave, Swarthmore; 610-328-8000. Carmen Lomas Garza, paintings, prints, Day of the Dead installation. Closes 11/2.

*NEW* Tyme 17 W Eagle Rd, Havertown; 610-853-1215. www.tymegallery.com. Poet Janet Sadler. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Wed. Bring poetry. "Abstractly Speaking," mixed media. Closes 11/11.

Wayne Art Center 413 Maplewood Ave, Wayne; 610-688-3553. www.wayneart.com. Eileen Goodman, drawings, paintings, watercolors. Closes 10/24.

*NEW* Widener University University Center, 14th & Chestnut Sts, Chester; 610-499-1189. American Color Print Society show, mixed media prints. Opens 10/21. Reception 4:30-7 p.m. 10/22. Closes 12/6.

Performing Arts

Music

Oldies Night With 5 3 Woodland, DJ Steve Kurtz. Archbishop Prendergast High School, gymnasium, 401 N Lansdowne Ave, Drexel Hill; 610-626-3506. $25. 8 p.m. Sat.

Professional & Community Theater

Always...Patsy Cline Musical; Perennial Productions present. The Wayne Manor, 1515 Rte 23, Wayne; 800-414-9721. Selected Tues-Thus. Closes 10/23.

La Cage Aux Folles Musical. Media Theater for the Performing Arts, State & Monroe Sts, Media; 610-566-4020. $35; $32.50 seniors, $25 students; $22 ages 12 & under. Weds-Suns. Closes 10/19.

*NEW* The Ghost Train Play. Celebration Theater of Lansdowne presents. Lansdowne Railroad Station, Lansdowne Ave, Lansdowne; 610-259-1800. $20; $18 seniors. Fris-Suns (added shows 10/23 & 10/29-30). Closes 11/2.

*NEW* Me & My Girl Musical; Rose Valley Chorus & Orchestra presents. Delaware County Christian School, 462 Malin Rd, Newtown Square; 610-565-5010.. www.rvco.org. $20; $15 seniors, students; $5 ages under 13. Fris-Sats. Opens Fri. Closes 10/25.

A Party to Murder Mystery. Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd, Rose Valley; 610-565-4211. www.hedgerowtheatre.org. $19 & $22 ; $10 students; senior discounts. Thus-Suns. Closes 11/9.

The Secret Garden Musical. Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd, Rose Valley; 610-565-4211. $8. Sats. Closes 11/8.

Auditions & Rehearsals

Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra 28 N Lansdowne Ave, Suite 1, Lansdowne; 610-284-3719. www.lansdowneso.org. Ongoing auditions. Call for appt.

The Delaware County Concert Band Christ Presbyterian Church, State Rd & Fosse Ave, Drexel Hill; 610-543-3646. New members needed: all ages. 8 p.m. Tues.

The Masterworks Chorale St James United Church of Christ, 135 Myrtle Ave, Havertown; 215-884-0701. www.masterworks25.com. All voice parts needed. Rehearsals 7:30-9:45 p.m. Tues.

The Rose Tree Pops Orchestra Springton Lake Middle School, 1900 N Providence Rd, Media; 610-459-2312. Ongoing auditions, needed: all instruments, strings especially. 7:30 p.m. Tues. Call for appt.

Nature

Barnes Foundation Arboretum 300 N Latches Ln (2 blocks N of 54th St & City Line Ave), Merion; 610-667-0290. www.barnesfoundation.org. Guided tours: Fris-Suns by appt. 12 acres of native, European, Asiatic specimen trees, shrubs. $5. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Fris-Suns. Reservations required.

Chanticleer 786 Church Rd, Wayne; 610-687-4163. www.chanticleergarden.org. 31 acres with tropical plants, flowering trees, native wildflowers, ponds. 2 hr group tours available; reservations required. $5; free ages under 17. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Weds-Sats.

*FREE* Jenkins Arboretum 631 Berwyn-Baptist Rd, Devon; 610-647-8870. www.jenkinsarboretum.org. Native hardwood trees, azalea & rhododendron collections, ornamental shrubs, day lilies & self-guided nature trail. Dawn-dusk daily.

*FREE* John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum 8601 Lindbergh Blvd, Tinicum; 215-365-3118. http://heinz.fws.gov/ Facilities include bicycling & hiking paths, canoeing & fishing.

8 a.m.-sunset daily; Cusano Environmental Education Center, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m daily.

*FREE* Ridley Creek State Park Rtes 3 & 352, Edgmont; 610-892-3900. Picnicking, hiking, bike trail, trout stream, fly-fishing area. Open 8 a.m.-sunset daily.

*FREE* Scott Arboretum Swarthmore College, Rte 320 & College Ave, Swarthmore; 610-328-8025. www.scottarboretum.org. 300-acre campus with woods, biostream, courtyard & rose gardens, more. Dawn-dusk daily.

*FREE* Taylor Memorial Arboretum 10 Ridley Dr, Wallingford; 610-876-2649. 30-acre woodland with waterfall, grotto, pond. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.

Museums & Attractions

Brandywine River Museum Rtes 1 & 100, Chadds Ford; 610-388-2700. www.brandywinemuseum.org. $6, $3 seniors, students with I.D. & ages 6-12, free ages under 6. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily.

*FREE* Franklin Mint Museum Rte 1 (south of Rte 452), Wawa; 610-459-6168. Displays of the Mint's products, specializing in die-cast cars and porcelain dolls. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mons-Sats, 1-4:30 p.m. Suns.

For Kids & Teens

Baby-Sitting 2-day programs for baby-sitters ages 11 & up on childcare, handling emergencies, first aid. Delaware County Memorial Hospital, 501 N Lansdowne Ave, Drexel Hill; 610-284-8158. Various times, days. Call for schedule, fees.

Borders 80 E Wynnewood Ave, Wynnewood; 610-642-0362. Storytime; all ages. 11 a.m. Fris.

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