Lecturers at the Jefferson Educational Society

David Matthews

David Matthews was born in New Castle, PA. March 28, 1941.  Attended Westminster College and Youngstown University and joined the Erie Playhouse in 1972. Previously, he had been active with the New Castle Playhouse. In fact, he was the youngest director, age 17, to direct a main stage production for the N.C. Playhouse. He eventually formed the first dinner theatre in Western Pennsylvania known as The Holiday Players.

Mr. Matthews spent six summers with the Kenley Players of Ohio. At the time (early 60’s) this was the largest chain of summer theatres in America. Mr. Kenley operated Equity theatres in Warren, Columbus and Dayton with a combined nightly attendance of 10,000 people. The first summer (1959) Mr. Matthews served as an apprentice, the second and third as Prop Master. His final summers, he served as Mr. Kenley’s personal assistant, dealing with contracts, star arrangements, publicity, box office procedure, handling apprentices etc.

The American Association of Community Theatres sponsors theatre competitions. The Erie Playhouse has only been able to enter one time because of their very busy schedule.

David’s production of BENT placed first in statewide competition and also in the ESTA (Eastern States Theatre Association) competition among six states. It then went to Racine for the national convention having placed as one of the ten best theatres in the nation.

Mr. Matthews has been credited with the revival of the Erie Playhouse’s standing in the community and the nation. His leadership has been a marvel. He is the longest running Managing Director of the Playhouse in its’ long history. His tenure lasted 34 years. He  surrounded himself with a staff that reflected a mutual love and respect for “community theatre” and shared the same vision. The long amicable and supportive relationship between Board and Staff was unique and special. It is no secret that many arts groups suffer bouts of tension, division and downright animosity between staff and Board. This did not happen at the Erie Playhouse and when anyone in the “know” was asked why…..the answer eventually came around to “David Matthews.”

One of the greatest assets of the Erie Playhouse was the Youtheatre, begun under David’s leadership. Where schools are failing their students in a scarcity of arts programs, the Playhouse stepped in with productions, classes, workshops, summer camps, etc. and extended learning experiences throughout the community that enriched both the Playhouse and Erie as a whole. This happened because David saw the need and the Playhouse stepped up to the plate and joined the ball game. As a result, literally thousands of young people have been exposed to live theatre on both sides of the footlights.

In August of 2006, David retired. Since then, he has directed at Villa Maria Academy and taught a “Musical Theatre History” class at Gannon and tutored drama students within the Mercyhurst College Curriculum. He also has begun directing productions at Mercyhurst College. He has also returned to the Playhouse on occasion to produce “fund raising” events. He and his wife Judy have kept busy visiting Disney World, New York City and other vacation spots, on a regular basis.

He has directed the community theatre premieres of:



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Mr. Matthews has directed over 450 productions in his 50 year history. These have ranged from two character musicals (I DO, I DO) to huge extravaganzas ( featuring a cast of 700). The Erie Playh

He also instituted a “Composer/Lyricist” series at the Erie Playhouse. This has also met with much praise. Mr. Matthews is considered an “expert” in musical theatre history and these concerts had much appeal not only for the music, but the stories and wisdoms and gossip he shared with the audience. What started as an “extra” turned into a triumph for the Playhouse. When he was invited back after a year of retirement to present another concert, the audience response was shattering. Lines formed around the block to get tickets.

Along with musical director Andrew Rainbow, a series of mainstage concerts were performed at the Playhouse featuring a huge cast of marvelous singers and musicians adding up to over 100 talents. These concerts, too, were hugely successful.

For 48 years, David hosted trips to New York City to introduce old and new theatre fans to the wonders of Broadway. Literally thousands of people have made their first pilgrimage to the Big Apple with David as their guide. In 2008, The Erie Playhouse asked him to once again host their planned Thanksgiving trip.

David has also been at the forefront of a diplomatic move in Erie to keep all theatres harmonious with each other. This is something that is terribly lacking in most cities where rival theatres are at each other’s throats. In Erie, mainly because of David’s guidance, this does not happen. The sharing of talent, ideas, and materials is a wonderful tribute to all that is “community theatre.”

In the past, David taught Elderhostel classes at Villa Maria Center. These classes proved highly successful and the ratings from the senior citizen students were exemplary.

He also taught classes at Edinboro University, Mercyhurst College and at Gannon University.

David has also worked with Maestro’s Peter Bay and Hugh Keelan and the Erie Philharmonic for combined concerts. The highly successful collaboration has been a positive in getting the local arts community to work with each other.

Among his many awards, he values the ELBERT SMITH AWARD presented by the Theatre Association of Pennsylvania as the “outstanding contributor to community theatre in Pennsylvania.” Mr. Matthews is the youngest recipient of this award.

In 2002, he was honored by Villa Maria Center in Erie as Erie’s “Community Treasure.” A dinner and awards ceremony accompanied the honor.

In 2004, David was awarded a Doctorate from Edinboro University for his years of service to the community.

In 2005, David received the HATS OFF AWARD as an honor from the Mayor’s Office of the City of Erie in recognition of his years of service to the city.

In 2005, he received commendation by Jane Earl and the Pennsylvania State Senate for his years of service.

In 2005, he received commendation by Erie City Council for his years of service.

In 2005, he received the APPLAUSE award given by the Erie Arts Council in recognition of years of service to Erie arts.

In 2006 he received commendation from Arlen Specter.

In 2006, the board of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatres ( PACT) voted to re-title the “Director’s Award.” Evermore it will be known as the “David Matthews Director’s Award”. This award is given to the outstanding director of a community theatre participating in the annual theatre festival in Pennsylvania, leading to ESTA and eventually national competition.

In 2006, David was awarded a “Community Service Award” by the members of the International Thespian Society at Mercyhurst Prep.

David was also honored with a three-day celebration at the Erie Playhouse when he retired. Hundreds of people attended the gala tribute week-end from all over United States and as far away as Hong Kong. He once again received additional commendations from Erie City and County Council and the Pennsylvania State Senate.

By the time David retired, he was Managing Director of the Erie Playhouse as they presented over 700 productions.

David is also one of the most active theatergoers possible. He has seen shows in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Florida, Cleveland, Connecticut, and more. He saw his first Broadway show at the age of 14 (Ethel Merman in HAPPY HUNTING) and he has visited New York City at least once every year ever since.

David also has a very valuable collection of published show music (much now out of print) and the largest collection of original cast CD’s and Records in Erie.

Upon retirement, he donated his gigantic collection of books, and scripts to the Erie Playhouse and Mercyhurst College Library. David and his wife also have a very large collection of show posters, memorabilia, etc. in their home that reflects their common love of theatre.