From the Historian: Summer theater, part II

Anita Mance

As mentioned in my last article, East Rochester’s Barry Tuttle got his start in summer theater when he was a high school student. 

After graduating in 1953, Barry attended Carnegie Institute of Technology and Ithaca College’s School of Drama. There, he taught technical direction and did scenic design for all of their productions. From 1957 to ‘59, Tuttle was scenic designer for the Rochester Community Players. 

Then, in 1960, he put all of his skills together as producer of the Town and Country Musicals (later called Town and Country Playhouse) at the East Rochester High School on Woodbine Avenue. With the exception of the summer of 1965 when the Playhouse was held at East High School and 1976-77 when there was no theater, plays and musicals were back in East Rochester.

The musical stock company with typically six to eight productions each summer had found its home. The “new” high school proved the perfect site — excellent stage facilities and acoustics, an air-conditioned 960-seat auditorium and plenty of free parking. Once again, the East Rochester Fire Department sponsored the theater. 

Famous stars of the time (some like Larry Kert in “West Side Story” reprising their Broadway roles) were performing in our village. Some of the stars included Patty Duke, Jayne Mansfield, Allen Case, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Pat Carroll, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Sometimes the plays were recent Broadway successes, some were pre-Broadway productions. Popular shows included “1776,” “The Fantasticks,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Carnival” and “Sweet Charity.”

Over the years, the theater also involved both Barry’s family and his ER family — wife Nancy served as associate producer for a time, sister Marilyn and cousin Susan Tuttle managed the Box Office for a while. High school students served as ushers and had the chance to see the shows for free. During rehearsals it was possible to even see the actors practicing outside with students playing tennis and basketball having a chance to see the stars.

In 1973, Barry worked on plans with Mayor Tony Della Pietra for a new venture. Called Town and Country Dinner Theater, it was to be the first of its kind in the area. The theater was located on West Commercial Street behind Debbie Supply. Tuttle hoped to provide a venue year-round for plays and dinner. 

The dinner theater opened on Dec. 30, 1974, with a one-man show starring Milton Berle. Barry continued to have his summer playhouse. Legal problems with the dinner theater and other commitments canceled the summer playhouse for 1976 and 1977. In 1977, the Dinner Theater closed in bankruptcy. (While Barry opened the Dinner Theater again in 1982, it soon closed.)  

In 1978, Tuttle formed a new company called the Barry Tuttle Summer Theater. Ten musicals and plays were produced at the school venue. The Fire Department was not able to sponsor the program, but the PTA was able to help. However, costs had escalated and theatergoers did not come in great numbers. It was the last summer for the theater. And so, the curtain fell for the last time on summer theater, but the memories remain of the excitement for all the years when the curtain went up.

Anita Mance serves as historian for the town/village of East Rochester.

A Town and Country program with Barry Tuttle.