Our point of origin – The late, lamented Bernheim House at Muhlenberg College.
Oscar Bernheim served as one of the most devoted employees in the history of Muhlenberg College. ‘Bernie’, as he was known, held down various positions as Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Secretary to the President of the College, Secretary and Treasurer of the College, Bursar, Registrar, bookkeeper, printer, purchasing agent, Manager of Athletics, rental and real estate agent, Alumni Secretary, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, and Manager of the Commons during his tenure. Before his untimely demise, Bernheim willed his home to the college under the proviso it be used as a residence hall for students of foreign languages until such time as that became impractical.
The Bernheim House stood at 2500 Chew Street, directly across the road from the college’s student union and next to the Dorothy and Dexter Baker Center for the Performing Arts. It was a three-story structure of no discernible era, a result of more architectural influences than are worth mentioning here. Two rooms, one of good size and one clearly intended for habitation by pygmies, stood on the first floor across from a spacious living room. The second floor contained four rooms of a more standard size while the third floor contained two rooms of such vast expanse that physical experiments regarding the nature of light were often conducted there. One primary feature of the Bernheim house was an elevated porch which extended beyond one of the second floor bedrooms. This room became known as the Porch Room.
The house remained a home for foreign language students until the early 1990s, at which point not enough students of German expressed interest in living there to warrant its allocation to them. The college determined that the new residents of the Bernheim House would be students of the performing arts. Theater students being theater students, Bernheim quickly gained a reputation as a haven for the bizarre, funny, weird, psychotic, schizophrenic, creative and generally fun.
Certain alleged incidents during the period of theatrical occupation include:
- A housekeeping staff engaged in basement Satanism.
- The inventions of the ‘Predator’ and ‘Great Muppet Caper’ Drinking Games.
- The discovery of ‘Voltroning’.
- The final proving trials of what 10 cranked Bose speakers actually sound like.
- A detailed analysis of the effect of a ten-foot slingshot on neighboring Benfer Hall.
- Several incidents of paranormal activity based on the continued residence of Oscar himself.
- One knife fight.
- The organization of the inexplicably 12-1 Intramural semi-finalist Muhlenberg Theater Association Softball Team.
- The consumption of a Halloween gourd.
- The theft of 65 gallons of cranberry juice concentrate.
The graduating class of 1997 was the final senior class to reside in the Bernheim House. In the fall of 1997, Bernheim House was put to rubble to clear the way for a new multi-million dollar performing arts center.
Two years later, a number of former Bernheim regulars decided to form a theatrical and cinematic production company with the goal of recording and performing their own original works. A number of names were thrown out for the group but after about three weeks of hardy name-hunting, ‘The Porch Room’ was settled on.
Since our first production, FIVE CORNERED THINKING premiered at the New York Comedy Club, our stage works have been seen at the New York International Fringe Festival, The Actors Playground, The BRUNCH One Act Festival and The Circle Players Theater. Five of our stage works have been honored with recognition by The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival –The Fruppum Alabama Chamber of Commerce and Some Colors on a Wall (both in 2006), The Banderscott (2007), Drop and Nine Point Eight Meters Per Second Per Second (both in 2009). At the conclusion of the 2009 festival, Drop was selected as a winning play and will soon be available for licence and in print from Samuel French.
In 2009, The Porch Room’s Accidents Happen, produced by the Circle Players Theater, won three NJACT Perry Awards, from a total of five nominations – including OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF A NEW PLAY. In 2010, the collection of short plays will be published and licensed by Sameul French.
The Porch Room’s first outing in the film world, EARLY MORNING IN THE TENEMENT, was an official entry in the first ever Trigger Street Film Festival. THE ADVENTURES OF BAJA ALAJUAN followed with the same honor. Our latest comedy short ,THE WHITE KNIGHT, has been seen at film festivals around the East Coast.
Our members have won awards for their plays and screenplays. Pete’s TIME CRIMES IN TWO HOURS won The Screenplay Magazine award. John’s FIRESTEEL was entered into the Triggerstreet.com Hall of Fame. Michael developed and co-wrote the short film TAILS BETWEEN THEIR LEGS, which won the National Film Challenge in 2006.
The Porch Room’s creative core currently consists of Pete Barry, J. Michael DeAngelis, andJohn Dowgin. Paige Klaniecki is a staff writer on The Porch Room’s MISSION: REJECTED podcast.