Good Life

Front and Centre Productions executive director happy to be home

Front and Centre Productions finally found a home last year on 213 N. Front St. in Philipsburg.
Front and Centre Productions finally found a home last year on 213 N. Front St. in Philipsburg. CDT photo

Home is where the heart is — but if you can also fit a few costumes and props in there, that’s nice too.

Prior to 2014, Front and Centre Productions borrowed rehearsal and storage space from anyone who would have them, an arrangement that thankfully exited stage left once they signed a lease at 213 North Front Street.

Their own little corner of Philipsburg is known officially as The John E. Weaver Center for Visual and Performing Arts — “Pappy Jack’s Place” to friends — and offers a variety of opportunities for people of all ages to express themselves creatively.

Steve Switala, executive director of Front and Centre Productions, recently discussed the value of having a place to hang their hat (pirate, cowboy, nun...whatever the script calls for).

Q: What is the relationship between Front and Centre Productions and the art center?

A: Founded in 2009, Front and Centre Productions did not have a permanent “home base” to operate from, borrowing space from local churches, schools, and homes. In May of 2014, the organization moved into a leased space at 213 North Front Street. This home is named after one of our most amazing volunteers — Jack Weaver — who spent many years as our set construction coordinator for our theatre program. “Pappy Jack,” as he was lovingly called by all of our kids, passed away in July 2013. To honor him, the new space was aptly named The John E. Weaver Center for Visual and Performing Arts, more affectionately known as “Pappy Jack’s Place.”

Q: How has having a more permanent space to store tools like props and costumes impacted the scope or variety of productions that you are able to mount? What has it allowed you to accomplish creatively?

A: Having a place to call our home has been a huge asset for all of the programs at Front and Centre. Our successful youth theatre program — IGNITE Youth Theatre — has always been the centerpiece of the organization. Pappy Jack’s Place has allowed us to centralize all of the rehearsals to one location, rather than borrowing space from local churches or cheerleading centers. This was very helpful for last summer’s productions of “West Side Story” and Disney’s “Mulan Jr.”

However, probably even more important has been the ability to expand the programming to include many different areas of the arts. Front and Centre is now able to offer classes and workshops in painting, polymer clay designs, dance classes, drama workshops, master classes, open mic nights, audition workshops, children’s art activities, sewing, knitting, quilting, with more being created regularly.

Q: What are some of the changes that you’ve made to the art center space to make it more community friendly?

A: When I was growing up in Philipsburg, there were not many arts opportunities for youth or adults to participate in. In organizing Front and Centre Productions, we hoped to offer a welcoming place for the arts to come alive. Having our place on Front Street in Philipsburg helps to bring that to the downtown area.

Q: Who has access to the arts center? Can anyone come in and teach or take a class or activity?

A: Keeping the costs of participating in Front and Centre programming low is very important as we hope to offer opportunities to everyone in the community. In the event of a financial hardship, we have scholarships to offer so that anyone who wants to participate can do so. All of the instructors at Pappy Jack’s Place have been interviewed and approved by the board of directors before teaching or leading any programming. Standard clearances are completed on all of the instructors.

Q: What role do you think that the arts play in a community? Why do you think that it is important for both children and adults to have a space where they can explore their creativity and learn new skills?

A: Every civilization since the beginning has included the arts, from cave dwelling drawings to lyrical jazz dancing today. The exposure to the arts is essential to the overall growth of every human being. The schools and churches have traditionally offered musical experiences to youth and adults, but any advanced musical opportunities were often only available to affluent communities. Also, the increased amount of high-stakes testing has brought about the reduction or elimination of many arts programs in Pennsylvania, so community groups are trying to fill that gap.

Front and Centre Productions is one of numerous organizations bringing the arts to everyone, regardless of income, societal status or education. The arts are changing lives and we are excited to offer them to our community at Pappy Jack’s Place. A safe, welcoming space for creativity is often a sign of a thriving community, and we are hopeful to continue offering this in Philipsburg.

Q: Recently you’ve begun hosting children’s birthday parties at the arts center. Was there a gap in Philipsburg that you were trying to fill? How does it help you to continue the mission of Front and Centre Productions?

A: With the closure of the Moshannon Valley SuperBowl, where many families would schedule birthday parties, Front and Centre Productions felt it should offer an alternative to going to State College, Clearfield, or even Altoona for these important events.

Having multiple programs reaching more and more people will help bring them to Front Street to see what the town has to offer. We have been working closely with Main Street Manager Dana Shoemaker to offer continued experiences in the downtown area.

Q: How can people get involved with Front and Centre Productions or find out more about offerings at the art center?

A: Front and Centre Productions has a website at www.frontandcentre.org with various pieces of information about the organization. We also have a Facebook page that is updated daily. The phone number to contact Front and Centre is 814-343-1812 or email is available at facproductions@ gmail.com. We look forward to inviting everyone to come and visit us at Pappy Jack’s Place!

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