Our beginnings, 1954
Pentacle Theatre began in 1954 in a barn on highway 22 across from Oak Knoll Golf Course. Approximately 15 people were the nucleus of that first theater and with a contribution of $2 from each of them the interior of the barn was whitewashed and a load of sawdust spread on the floor. A large tarpaulin was spread in the center to act as a stage. A local mortuary loaned folding chairs and dressing room facilities were established in a chicken coop attached to the rear of the building. The first production was Blithe Spirit directed by Bob Putnam who was a Professor at the Willamette University Drama Department.
How we got our name
The pentacle sign was originally a five sided figure which people inscribed around themselves to ward off evil spirits. Actors also used this protective pentagon and began placing it on their dressing room doors to insure their good luck. Thus, this “good luck” symbol evolved into the star shaped form that now designates the door of the leading actor.
Building our own theater
Ultimately, it was decided to build the present theater. Dr. & Mrs. E.B. Bossatti put up half of the mortgage on the land for the new theater and were instrumental in gaining the assistance of Stuart Compton and the Pioneer Trust Bank in raising the money for the theater building. While the theater was being built, summer and winter seasons were run out of the Salem Heights Community Hall. Pentacle hired the best architect it could find (his design won a national award) but the theater was built, in the main, by amateurs, in the best sense of the word, by people who did what they did for love, not money. Fortunately there were some carpenters and electricians among the membership but amateurs inspired to do what they had never done before did most of the work. In 1963, the first production in the present theater took place in what is now the lobby. It was cold and knocked together, but two plays were produced there and the next year the productions were moved upstairs. Pentacle now produces an eight-play season each year and involves hundreds of people from the community who do everything: directing, performing, building sets, costuming, ushering and selling refreshments.
A nine-member board of directors governs the theater. They are very much a working board who serve a three year term during which they attend meetings, supervise various volunteer committees, act as liaisons to each production and select the season each year. In 1992, a full time Technical Director was hired to design and build sets. Pentacle also has a part time facility maintenance person. We have numerous active committees. We started the Pentacle hospitality guild, which is a group of 100 people who usher; sell refreshments, work box office and bar tend on the same night for each production.
Selecting our seasons
Probably the most important committee we have is the Play Reading Committee. This committee has seven to nine members who, over a year’s time, read 80-100 scripts. In formulating a season they need to consider a balance between types of plays (comedy, drama, mystery, classic etc.), a balance of cast sizes (large cast shows followed by smaller casts), a balance of casting requirements (seasons heavily weighted to men’s roles or age extremes), the adaptability of the show to our setting, technical capabilities and audience, and a balance of Popular or “name” shows vs. less familiar projects. If this sounds like a big job, it is! It is very difficult to make everyone happy when choosing a season. The committee weighs all the criteria and usually comes up with two or three seasons that take everything into consideration. These are then presented to the board of directors who make the final decision.
In 1980, we began selling season tickets. That first year we charged $25 for 10 plays and sold 214 subscriptions.
Pentacle offers many community services such as community service night which is a free dress rehearsal provided for residents of local institutions such as the Oregon State Hospital, and local group home residents and a student night, which is the final dress rehearsal, provided for all area drama students. These students are also given the opportunity to discuss the play afterwards with the director and actors. Two performances of each production are reserved and sold as fundraisers for local non-profit organizations generating over $250,000 for those groups over the years.
Awards and honors
In 1979, the Salem Art Association awarded Pentacle its Excellence in the Arts Award. In 1998, Salem Convention and Visitors Association named Pentacle Theatre Non-Profit of the Year. The theater has also received “gold” in the Statesman Journal’s Best of the Mid-Valley contest. In 2016, Pentacle Theatre was honored with the Willamette Heritage Center’s Heritage Enterprise Award for its significant long-term contributions to the local economy and quality of life.
In 2002, Pentacle Theatre began its first capital campaign to raise $1 million dollars. After 37 years the theater was in need of repairs that could not be undertaken with our operating budget.
Pentacle is a thriving operation with a $550,000 annual budget. We have the distinction of producing quality productions and remaining “in the black.” This unique status would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of so many, and the steadfast patronage and generosity of area residents.