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Local writer pens book highlighting Millbrook’s first 50 years

PHOTO PROVIDED Claire Gilmartin is shown as Annie Oakley in an early production of “Annie Get Your Gun” at Millbrook Playhouse.

LOCK HAVEN — It just kept getting bigger.

Those were the words Kathy Arndt said with a chuckle while discussing her book “Millbrook: The First 50 Years” which highlights half a century of the playhouse’s history.

The book was originally meant to be just a pamphlet when its board of directors approached Arndt in 2012.

However, that changed as her research progressed. Now, those few pages have grown exponentially to a whopping 167, filled with the history of Millbrook and the barn it calls home.

“After awhile I said ‘yeah… this is going to be bigger than a pamphlet.’ It just kept getting bigger. I tried to put in every kid at Millbrook in it,” Arndt said.

PHOTO PROVIDED A photo of Millbrook Farm while still in operation, before it was renovated into Millbrook Playhouse.

Arndt covered a large swath of information in the book which features photographs over the years laid out by local photographer and graphic designer Bill Crowell.

One chapter centers around the history of the property itself, beginning in the 1700s when it was a simple cattle barn right up to 2013.

Another chapter is centered around the creation of Millbrook Playhouse.

“It was 1962 when the board was established. Three gentlemen, Dan Reinhold III, Peter Gstalder and Kelly Yeaton worked together putting together the idea that Dan and Peter had,” Arndt said.

Arndt explained that Peter and Dan were the founders of an artist colony in the area — one of the first on the east coast following World War II — and used the abandoned barn to gather supplies.

LAURA JAMESON/THE EXPRESS Kathy Arndt sits in her living room, where she wrote her book, and points at various actors she’s known over the years. Kathy is able to tell a story about each one, whether from meeting the actor, a fun fact about where they are now or information she’s learned through her research.

“They were walking through one night, I assume after they had an evening of a few brews, and said ‘boy this would be a great place for a theater,'” she said.

Thanks to help from the community, the original board was able to raise $100,000 to purchase the barn and renovate it. In 1963, Millbrook opened its doors for the first time and each summer they have continued to do so.

Arndt wrote about each decade, highlighting the various actors from each time period and the shows that were performed, ending in 2013.

From there she wrote a “Where are they now” chapter. Arndt said it was a process to research the hundreds of actors that have set foot on Millbrook’s stage, but she discovered many went on to do big things.

That included three actors who christened the theater’s stage in 1963: Woody Eney, Sam Straus and Marshall Murdaugh.

Arndt and her friend Fran Decker met the trio in Richmond, Va., where they had dinner together and learned what they’d been up to since that summer all those years ago.

“It was absolutely delightful, they really hadn’t seen each other since ’63 and they all had major careers,” she said.

Eney had gone on to become a character actor in movies and TV and Marshall was the brains behind New York City’s “Big Apple” campaign as well as Virginia’s slogan “Virginia is for lovers.”

Arndt said it was enlightening to hear about what it was like at Millbrook in that first year. During the time there were only 15 cast members and crew and they would perform a new play every week.

“So at any one time they would be performing one play, actually rehearsing a second and learning the lines of a third play,” she said.

Arndt also wrote chapters about Millbrook’s well known children’s theater and, of course, the organization’s volunteers.

She said she recently received an email from a friend which highlighted the importance of Millbrook’s volunteers and the community.

“It’s really the community’s support for the theater, it’s been fantastic over the years, enabling us to buy the barn and supporting us. I think that’s important,” she said. “This barn still wouldn’t be here, and many of them are not, if it hadn’t been for the community support and the volunteers.”

Millbrook has held a special place in Arndt’s heart ever since she first saw “Inherit the Wind” in 1963 with her mother. The two would occasionally visit the theater until the mid-1980s. From there her excursions to the theater grew after meeting Fran and a few other friends from high school.

In 2004 she became an usher and in 2008 she joined the board of directors, stepping down in 2013.

Writing this book combined three hobbies Arndt thoroughly enjoys… history, Millbrook and writing.

“I’ve always had a connection with history,” Arndt said. The Lock Haven native graduated from Lock Haven State College with one of its first Bachelor’s in History degrees and then went on to earn her Master’s in Latin American studies from the University of Austin in Texas.

Her love of writing began when she took over preparing a newsletter at Piper Aviation in the late 1970s.

All these loves combined created the perfect storm and lead to the creation of a book that captures the history of one of Clinton County’s most unique attractions.

Millbrook’s Artistic Director David Leidholt hopes the community will come together and purchase a copy of the book to learn more about their local theater. The history of the barn itself was something that fascinated him.

“What struck me most is how much the community was involved,” he said.

One story that stuck with him about the community’s dedication involved Piper Aviation. The playhouse was in need of a sound system and an employee from the factory took a plane out of the area to pick up the equipment and fly it back for a show.

“Millbrook: The First 50 Years” costs $30 and can be purchased by visiting www.millbrookplayhouse.org.

Leidholt said out of 200 copies that were ordered in late 2020, 33 have been sold so far. If you have questions about delivery or would like to order via phone, you can do so by calling 570-748-8083.

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