A lot of people know by now, the third year for Summit StageFest, that all the square's a stage.

That's what's happening in Highland Square from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, when theater groups across Northeast Ohio converge for a free celebration of live performance. This year, 26 theatrical groups will perform on five stages as well as on porches and the street in Akron's eclectic neighborhood.

The festival will stretch farther north this year, to a performance area in the circle on North Highland Avenue behind the library, on porches up that street and at a new stage location at North Highland Avenue and Edgerton Road. The porch performances are a new feature for this festival, with North Highland neighbors offering them for poetry readings, Akron Derbytown Chorus barbershop quartets and the dramatic soliloquy "Baglady" by Mary Lu Garmone of Cleveland.

As in previous years, the bulk of the festival will take place on West Market Street between Portage Path and Casterton Avenue. Many performers are coming from Akron and nearby suburbs, while others hail from as far as Cleveland, Youngstown, Chagrin Falls and Mantua.

A wide range of acts will include Wild Hair Theatre Collective of Akron's "Street Theatre," a comedic rendering of the Stonewall riot; Gladiators of Youngstown's "Beautiful Wounds," evoking armed combat of the Roman arena; Theatre on the Spectrum of Akron's "Clowning Around" original comedy acts; and Home Invasion of Cleveland's "Dinner with Andre," a variety talk show.

The event also will include more than 120 visual artists, crafters and other exhibitors. Last year, 7,200 people attended StageFest.

New to the festival is Tower Eighty Players, a troupe of senior citizen actors led by Marvin Phillips, 90, who lives right in the neighborhood at Tower Eighty. Members of this readers' theater, who have been meeting monthly at his apartment building to perform readings of classic works for about a year, will perform poems, stories and lyrics from Dr. Seuss, T.S. Eliot, Abbott and Costello, Robert Frost, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aesop, Neil Armstrong, Emma Lazarus and John Lennon.

The group first met in Phillips' large living room. But when it kept growing and attracted audiences, performances moved to Tower Eighty's party room.

"My background is entirely classical and my standards are very, very high," said Phillips, who was the director of theater at the University of Chicago and founder of Court Theater, the nation's first outdoor classic theater, in Chicago in 1955.

The Highland Square resident's love of theater goes back to when he served in the Army in the Korean War, where he performed short Moliere plays for the soldiers.

"I want shows to be intellectually stimulating but they have to be entertaining," Phillips said.

His troupe's readings have included works by Moliere, Shakespeare, Thornton Wilder, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller, Peter Shaffer and Aristophanes. A number of the seniors in his group live in Tower Eighty. Tim Smith, one of the apartment building's doormen, is one of his strongest readers, the director said.

At Summit StageFest, Tower Eighty Players will do 20 short classic pieces in a show Phillips has titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Highland Square." The collection of works is the troupe's 10th show.

"I don't think an audience can sit through an entire play" in a festival setting, Phillips said of his choice of short works.

They include Dr. Seuss' "Yertle the Turtle," about the king of the pond who commands the other turtles to perform backbreaking tasks to help him expand his kingdom. Phillips calls it "a perfect combination of wit and wisdom."

Troupe members to perform Saturday are longtime actress Marci Paolucci, retired Cuyahoga Falls schools administrator Phil Martucci, retired therapist David Jacobs, retired journalist Judy Casey, Paul Jeffery, Keryl Whetstone, Brenda Hairston, Tom Reke, Smith and Sondra Katlila.

Casey will perform John Gillespie Magee's "High Flight" as a tribute to Challenger astronaut Judith Resnik, Paolucci will perform Robert Service's humorous poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," Jacobs will read Eliot's "Macavity the Mystery Cat," Smith will do readings by Armstrong and King, and Martucci and Whetsone will do Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?"

Tower Eighty Players' dress rehearsal for "The Wit and Wisdom of Highland Square" Sunday drew a packed house at the apartment complex, Phillips said. The piece is performed with musical accompaniment by double bass player Brandon Tyson of the University of Akron.

Phillips, the retired director of the University of Akron Institute for Civic Education, formerly did readings of classic plays with his wife, Alice, and their friends at their West Akron home. The group was called the Pigeon Creek Players.

After Alice died in late 2017, Phillips decided to start a readers' theater again.

"I didn't want to sit around and be an old man and put a cover over my lap and watch TV," said Phillips, who no longer drives. "It's a secret to longevity, what I'm doing."

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.