Friday, July 23, 2021

Hill Essay Winner Writes Play About Pottstown

Matthew Saylor
Blogger's Note: The following are specifics about one of two winners in the annual Shandy Hill Essay contest sponsored by the Greater Pottstown Foundation, which submitted this information. This post focuses on Matthew Saylor, a 2021 graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School.

Mathew Saylor wrote an essay in the form of a three-act play entitled “Our Together Home - a Pottstown play”. Act 1 introduces the main character, who is in fact, the author himself. He is portrayed as a boy taking the audience on a guided tour of Pottstown “through a lens most may not look through – theater.” 

The boy tells us that “Pottstown is home to many, but a home for all.” That point is illustrated throughout the play by several examples of how the author perceives Pottstown as an inclusive community with opportunity for all residents who want to avail themselves of it, regardless of their ethnicity, economic background, or other differences they may exhibit.

Act 2 begins with a look at Steel River Playhouse on East High Street, during the summer. The marquee outside reads “Summer Camps for All Ages.” 

We see the boy at 10 years of age attending a summer camp with other children of elementary school age from various backgrounds and communities within the Greater Pottstown area. This is where he learned the skills of the theater - how to perform, and how to sing. Suddenly we see him again two years later at age 12. 

After having had many opportunities to act in summer camp productions, he now has landed a part in his first real mainstage show, “The Miracle Worker” (the Hellen Keller story), where he really felt that he came into his own as an actor. There were opportunities for many Pottstown folks to participate in that play. 

The Steel River Playhouse has a tradition of offering opportunity to local people, regardless of their talent level, instead of going outside the area to recruit participants for their shows. They offer support and encouragement to all who want to participate. (Because of his successes at Steel River at such a young age, Matt will also be invited to participate in “A Christmas Story – the Musical”, an adaptation of the 1983 movie with the same name, at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia just a few months later.)

Matthew Saylor is congratulated
by Paul Prince.
Next, we move forward almost four years, where we see the boy again at Steel River. He now has his first main lead role as Jack Kelly in the Disney musical “Newsies.” 

The narration goes on to show us other opportunities for Mathew, and other local students, in venues other than Steel River. Mathew has played various roles in both community theater and high school productions over the years, earning lead parts in several. When he was a high school junior, the Hill School recruited him to play a lead role in their 2019 production of Hair Spray. Mathew was impressed that they reached out to a student at a nearby local school, rather than paying for talent elsewhere. The welcoming and encouraging attitude at The Hill, toward a local public-school student, also impressed him – especially how they treated him “with kindness, compassion, and encouragement… and as a part of the Hill family.”

In Act 3, “the boy” shows us the future. We see him as an established Broadway actor, winning a Tony Award for “Best Actor in a Musical”. During his acceptance speech he attributes whatever ability he may have to his having been raised in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a small ethnically and economically diverse rural community where inclusiveness, acceptance, opportunity, and encouragement is available to everyone, especially in theater, if one simply accepts the opportunity.

Mathew will be attending Cornell University in Ithaca, NY this Fall, where he currently plans to undertake a major in Mathematics and a minor in Performing and Media Arts. When asked about his unusually diverse study choices, Mathew discerningly replies that he enjoys both areas of study, and that he wants to keep all his opportunities open.

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