Deep in the back of a rather large yard at Paddy Hill, hidden among the weeds and overgrown brush, is what appears to be the foundation of an old structure. Adolescents finding this structure could easily imagine themselves as an explorer discovering the ruins of an ancient civilization. A less imaginative adult might see the remains of a long-forgotten barn.
Neither a lost civilization, nor an old barn, the crumbling structure is what remains of a forgotten story in the history of the Town of Greece, a story of a community-supported theatrical group whose trophy case once contained countless awards for their outstanding contributions in the entertainment field.
It was during the early part of the last century that a group of neighbors from the Paddy Hill area got together for the purpose of entertaining themselves by putting on plays. When the new School 5 was completed in 1931, there was a need for new equipment. The president of the school’s PTA asked a young and talented Walter Whelehan to put on a play to raise money for the project, which he did, directing a successful play with those amateur actors from the neighborhood.
The play was so successful that the group was invited to a statewide contest, sponsored by Cornell University. They went on to win the contest and for the next two decades, they were the premier amateur theatrical group in this area.
Mr. Whelehan became the president and the theatrical director of the group. He was also an accomplished actor, starring in many of the plays he directed. Proceeds from their melodramas, mysteries, and comedies helped dozens of community organizations.
With no theater of their own, their plays were produced at area schools, and a few times in the late 1930s they were featured at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Rochester, receiving accolades from both the Democrat & Chronicle and the Times-Union. By 1940, they had more than 76 productions to their credit.
The group’s headquarters was a cabin or what they called a “shanty” on the Whelehan family farm. After the war, this successful and philanthropic group had a dream of building and owning their own theater. In 1946 they incorporated and in 1947 with the help of a community fund drive, purchased seven acres of the Whelehan farm.
Construction of the theater began in 1948, but near its completion, the project and the group lost its momentum. We may never know why, but the theater was never finished. The group eventually disbanded and went their separate ways. In 1955, The Democrat & Chronicle reported that the group was inactive and still waiting for their theater to be completed. In 1957, the land was sold back to the Whelehan estate, ending forever their dream. Soon new suburban neighborhood streets would all but bury the old farms and orchards of the area and the remains of that unfinished theater.
That foundation, hidden among the weeds and overgrown brush, is what remains of their unfinished dream, but it is also a hidden monument to a group of people who gave their talents for the benefit of the community. They were the Paddy Hill Players.
NOTE: This is a condensed and edited version of a story that appeared in the Greece Post, on July 13, 2006
This week we look at the Greece Performing Arts Society.
Before GPAS formed in 1969
Between 1930 and 1950, people in the town of Greece had many opportunities to join in performing arts centered activities. Amateur theatrics were popular; not only was there the Paddy Hill Players troupe, but a number of churches, including St. John the Evangelist Church and Bethany Presbyterian Church staged annual plays.
By 1960 whereas students could join drama club or the school chorus or band, the opportunities for adults were fewer.
1969 – the Greece Performing Arts Society was formed
So, in 1969, the Greece Performing Arts Society was formed for just that purpose—as an outlet for adults who didn’t want to give up performing just because they were no longer in school. GPAS became the “umbrella organization to pull together and coordinate all the various community performing organizations.”
Initially there were four groups, the Community Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra, the Choral Society, and a Summer theatre group. That first performance year, 1970-71, 165 people were in the various groups; they performed 20 concerts with an estimated total audience of 5,400 people.
GPAS was born from the adult continuing ed experience of Robert Holtz who founded the community orchestra. Dr. David Felter founded the Symphony Orchestra.
Ralph Zecchino founded the choral society and was its director for 44 years from 1970-2014.
Over the years, the theatre group usually presented two musicals a summer with a mystery or comedy play or two until 2013. Now GPAS co-sponsors a student summer production.
In 1992 Greece Performing Arts Society put on Nunsense which was an off-Broadway Production that ran for 35 weeks in 1985 and it is a musical comedy with a book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin, who is an American writer, composer, and lyricist. The musical Nunsense is a hilarious spoof about the misadventures of five nuns trying to manage a fundraiser. Sadly, the rest of the sisterhood died from botulism after eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia Child of God. It was based on Dan’s early life experiences, including schooling by the Marywood Dominican Sisters. The musical of Nunsense did have six sequels but Greece Performing Arts Society only put on the original Nunsense the musical.
The society had a regular schedule of annual events, such as
Some of Different Concerts GPAS puts on
Winter Blah Concert
The spring concert
Concerts at the Shore
And the Supervisor’s Concert.
And they were there for special occasions such as: The 150th anniversary of the founding of Our Mother of Sorrows Church
And a solemn ceremony for healing after September 11, 2001.
They regularly perform at the Eastman theatre.
A highlight in the history of the Choral Society was performing in France for the 50th anniversary of the D-day invasion at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Many Greece residents looked forward every summer between 1997 and 2016 to the GPAS annual garden tour fundraiser.
Today, GPAS is composed of three groups, the community orchestra, choral society, and concert band. As they have for more than 50 years, the Greece Performing Arts Society continues to offer musical enrichment to the Greece community.
Learn More about Greece Performing Arts Society and it history starting with The Prelude written by Bill Coons at www.greeceperformingarts.org/i-the-prelude. If you have any General Questions about GPAS then email them at email@example.com. Interested in becoming a member of GPAS then check out their membership page https://www.greeceperformingarts.org/membership. You can subscribe to their monthly newsletter to stay up to date on upcoming concerts, events and more. The Greece Concert Band, Choral Society, and Community Orchestra are pleased to be rehearsing at 75 Stutson Street.