I began March with a post about this irksome experience (click). When first posted it included a couple paragraphs as to why this particular contest offends me so much. Within an hour or two of posting I went back in and edited out my thoughts about the contest. My reasoning was depraved, or possibly desperate. I cut the lines because I might lose a gig if certain people were to see them. I know how things work around here (click).
Ever since tapping away the existence of those explanatory words with my delete key, a sense of duplicity and collusion nagged at me. So here’s why I declined to associate myself with the Shawnee Playhouse Playwrights competition:
The Shawnee Playhouse is owned and operated by Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort. This was the third year of their competition for dramatists. It costs $15 to enter. Last year the competition was won by Rob Howell.
Rob Howell is the General Manager of the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort and sits on the executive board of the Worthington Players, which is the nonprofit amateur troupe at the Shawnee Playhouse during the off season. Let me put that in perspective. Other than the owners, this is the top executive at the resort which controls the theater.
Which is where my lost series of gigs comes in: The Shawnee Inn also owns the Gem and Keystone, a pleasant locavore eatery and microbrewery where JJ Deluxe and I got booked for a last minute Valentine’s Day gig a month ago yesterday. I was hoping to get more gigs there. It’s just not worth it, though.
I’m not trying to hold myself up as a saint. I have what used to be called a checkered past (and that ain’t the half of it).
Anyway, that’s why I felt so strongly about not being associated with this playhouse’s contest. I went in January to see Rob Howell’s winning entry. It was ten unconnected 10 minute plays. It was about as innocuous as one can get and still be called drama.
I don’t blame Rob Howell. The guy is a failed thespian. He’s a nice guy approaching middle age, with a nice wife and a good job. I doubt there was even any overt pressure from him to choose his submission. There didn’t have to be. He’s the boss.
Given this post and this post, (that's in case you didn't click them above) I don’t blame Rob Howell. Corruption is so endemic to the cultural scene here in the Poconos he likely did not even realize what he was doing.
However, Midge McCloskey, who runs the playhouse for the resort, as a paid employee, is not so long out of the professional theater scene, according to her resume, that she could have missed the impropriety of Howell winning the competition.
I take being a dramatist seriously. I may be self educated and a jail bird, but I still feel that, being lucky enough to have my plays and musicals produced, my efforts have to be as well-crafted and as honest as is within my power. I want the process to be clean and I want the business that allows the process to be clean as well.
That’s not going to happen for me as a playwright in Pennsylvania, though. This is the place where two governors – Tom Ridge and Eddie “Fat Cat” Rendell poured tens of millions of commonwealth taxpayers’ dollars into the sinkhole known as the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts; razing along the way one of the last vestiges of the great work done by the ILGWU – their summer camp, which was on the Register of National Historic Places; and finally giving the surrounding square mile of pristine forest and lake to developers from Philadelphia, after promising every which way to Heaven that the land would remain untouched. This last bunch are cronies of Fat Cat Rendell, and it happened on his watch.
But that’s the way it goes in Pennsylvania politics, especially with Fat Cat Rendell in the gov’s mansion. When the voters voted against casino gambling, Fat Cat signed it into law by virtue of executive order and backroom arm twisting. Here in the Poconos, that led to a mob-connected garbage hauling magnate getting the casino license. That process was so blatantly corrupt as to be laughable that everything is so open.
Two primary bidders wanted the casino license. One of them, a contractor from NJ, bought the abandoned former resort property on which he planned to build his casino. He also did a presentation of proposed gaming facility, including architect’s model, blue prints, environmental impact studies, the whole bit. He spent somewhere north of three million dollars. The other bidder bought a resort and went ahead and tore down the existing buildings and built his casino and hotel before the licenses were approved. I’m sure Governor Rendell would chalk it up to one guy being better at positive thinking.
Eventually, justice was served, Pennsylvania style. The garbage hauler was proven to have mob ties – a fact about which he lied during his application process with the gaming commission. (I’m surprised they even bothered to ask, given the way the rest of the process went.) As a result, he lost his casino license. His daughter took over for him and now runs Mount Airy Casino.
Stay tuned – table games are coming to Pennsylvania casinos. I’ll go out for one night to the Sands in Bethlehem to try my luck once cards start turning. It’s about 25 miles further but every time I drive past the turn off for the Mount Airy slots parlor, I think about how it came to be, and my mind naturally segues to the roulette table in Casablanca.
But I digress.
So there you go. I don’t think Midge McCloskey has to worry about a RICO indictment for ripping off some wannabe playwrights of $15. The Shawnee Inn and the Mount Airy Casino will survive my slings and arrows. In fact, they might even take the Lillie Langtry position that all publicity is good publicity. Rob Howell can still walk around and saying he’s the author of 10 – count ‘em: 10 – prize- winning plays. Eddie Fat Cat Rendell will probably be appointed the next chair of the DNC when he leaves Harrisburg. The ILGWU Summer Camp will be a housing development and the Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts will continue to be ignored as the symbol of foolishness, corruption, waste, and hubris that it is.
I’ll still have what’s left of my integrity, for whatever that’s worth.
This will be my last post about the Shawnee Playhouse as long as no one from there sends me any more insane emails.
Have a Happy Ides of March.
-- Uke Jackson