Off the Wall Productions theater moves to Carnegie

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A slice of off-Broadway-style theater will come to Carnegie this fall when Off the Wall Productions opens the season in its new home in the former WorkWell Inc. building.

Off The Wall is moving from its 66-seat theater in Washington, Pa., where it began in 2007.

It plans to open its sixth season Oct. 12 with a production of Sharr White's play, "The Other Place," in its new building at 25 W. Main St.

Hans Gruenert, managing director of Off the Wall, is converting the former 7,000-square-foot office building into a 96-seat theater with a thrust stage, concession space and rehearsal rooms on the second floor. No seat will be more than 12 feet from the stage.

The outside of the building will be painted and awnings will be installed, Mr. Gruenert said. Parking is available in a borough lot across the street, where the meters are not monitored after 6 p.m. Workwell has relocated to 112 Third St. in Carnegie.

Mr. Gruenert believes the new location will benefit the actors as well as the audience.

"The drive to Washington was hard for the actors, especially in the winter," he said, noting that they often put in long work days rehearsing and preparing for productions.

"Part of what we do is support local actors. Many people think the best actors are in New York, but we have a lot of talent here," he said.

Off the Wall Productions began as a professional theater company, employing members of the Actors' Equity Association. It also encourages female directors and playwrights, often working with them to develop new projects.

Mr. Gruenert emphasized that Off the Wall occupies a specific niche in Pittsburgh theater and won't be competing with local theaters.

"We are not a community theater. We are a small actor equity company," he said. "We don't do the kinds of productions they do at community theaters."

Mr. Gruenert, who was born in Germany and is an American citizen, was inspired by his wife, Virginia Wall Gruenert, to start Off the Wall Productions.

His full-time job is in the coal-mining machinery business, and he had received an offer to work in Pittsburgh.

"We were living in New York City. My wife, who is a professional actress, said she wouldn't move to Pittsburgh unless I started a theater, so I started a theater," he said.

Ms. Gruenert is artistic director for the theater and acts in productions. She also is a playwright and has a play in development, Mr. Gruenert said.

He envisions staging four shows a year but would like the theater to be used year-round.

"We can be a venue for dance companies, other theater groups and even stand-up comedians," he said.

A business development grant from the Carnegie Community Development Corp., headed by Leigh White, helped to bring the theater to Carnegie, and Mr. Gruenert said he has been welcomed by many in the community.

He hopes the theater will be a part of Carnegie's continuing revitalization, and he plans to visit all of the taverns and restaurants in town so he can introduce himself to business owners and residents.

An open house is planned for Aug. 25 at the theater's new location.

Mr. Gruenert has just begun the inside demolition work with his contractor, but he is hands-on when it comes to getting things done. On Saturday, he was out trimming weeds in the vacant lot adjacent to the theater.

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Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer:


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