Stage Left Theatre Company offers a platform for area residents to express their creative energy – the most recent example being a performance of three one-act plays selected in a nationwide competition.
Poncha Springs playwright Judy Kiehart’s “Assumptions” was among the three selected after a blind reading of submissions, and she was the only local resident among the winners.
Kiehart moved from Pennsylvania to the Salida area in 2000 after touring Colorado for a new place to set up shop. After 10 days traveling, she evaluated the towns she’d seen and said, “I want to live in that town with the river.”
While theater had always interested Kiehart, she got her first hands-on experience with Stage Left Theatre Company when she started working backstage in 2003. “It gave me a whole different look at theater; you get to see it from a different perspective than from the audience.”
In 2005 Stage Left performed her first play, “Some Angels Play Checkers,” which she had adapted from her short story “The Photo Album.”
Then in 2010 the theater company was featuring new and unheard of works, prompting Kiehart to write her 90-minute Christmas program, “Global Holidays.”
“It’s only been a hobby,” she said. “I was never formally educated in theater. I’ve been fortunate that my plays have been deemed worthy to put on stage.”
Kiehart says that her storyteller side comes from her aunt, who encouraged her to make up stories and write them down as a child. “She was my first editor,” she said.
“My biggest influence was the people of Stage Left, and they continue to influence me,” said Kiehart. “The ability to participate backstage is beautiful, and the people are amazing.”
Kiehart said she’s always working on new projects – plays that she plans to submit on the East Coast, a memoir, short stories she wants to publish as e-books.
On her creative process and artistic tendencies, Kiehart said she likes warm, fuzzy feelings. “I could watch ‘The Sound of Music’ or ‘The Waltons’ all day long. But I like to be real and down to earth too. Suicides happen. Tragedies happen. But I like to give things a positive slant. Most of my characters are a combination of people I’ve known and experiences I’ve had,” she said.
Kiehart grew up in Jermyn, a coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania. “My parents were factory workers, as most people were in my neighborhood. They would see the ladies in the offices and determined that I would go to junior college and become a secretary to be successful like them.”
It being a different time, she said, your parents could make decisions like that for you, and you’d listen.
In 1969 she took her first job as a carhop at a drive-in restaurant called The San-aw. She was 16 years old.
“I can still smell the grease,” she said. “This was before the McDonald’s of the world took over. We wore white miniskirts and sleeveless button-down shirts – working until 2 in the morning on a Saturday night. Everyone would come by after the drive-in movies.”
Much of her writing is centered on that era, she said.
“It was a different time. Work was 3 miles from my home, and I’d often walk home if I didn’t have a ride. You were walking all the time back then. You’d never think to do that anymore.
“There was a place we called The Wall – just a stone wall around someone’s property. We’d go sit on that wall, and no one would bother us about it. Guys would drive by and maybe ask one of us to come along for a ride.”
In many ways, Kiehart said, her move to the Salida area was a search for that kind of a community. “This town very much replicates my years growing up, but in a more artistically focused community. That’s something I didn’t realize I wanted until I came here.”
“The people of Salida are diverse and talented,” she said. “The community really pulls together for creative things. The Book Haven, the creative mixers, the Salida SteamPlant and Stage Left all pull in talent – not to mention all the galleries. Anyone who wants to participate in the theater should come out. It’s an incredibly supportive community.”