Obituary: Kate Shaffmaster, theater director

News, Obituaries March 2, 2011 0 Comments

Obituary: Kate Shaffmaster, theater director

by Walter Fox
Kate Shaffmaster, 92, a theater director who produced plays at the Allens Lane Art Center in Mt. Airy for 34 years, died Feb. 9 at her home in Mt. Airy.

Mrs. Shaffmaster started directing plays shortly after she, husband, the late Frederic Shaffmaster, and an interracial group of neighbors established the art center in 1953 as a way of reducing community tensions in an area that was undergoing integration.

Her productions of “Cry, the Beloved Country” and “A Raisin in the Sun” in the 1960s forced audiences to confront issues in the struggle for civil rights and offered local actors in a changing community an opportunity to perform.

In 1968, Mrs. Shaffmaster founded the Café Theater of Allens Lane where patrons sat at candlelit tables and were encouraged to bring their own food and wine. Each play was followed by an open discussion with the cast and director. She staged more than 100 plays at the Café Theater before it closed in 1987. (The arts center continues its theater tradition by producing five plays a year in a cabaret setting)

Mrs. Shaffmaster’s whole family – her husband, two sons and two daughters – were involved with her in the theater as actors, ticket collectors and set builders.

In addition to her theater work at Allens Lane, Mrs. Shaffmaster taught acting classes at the art center, the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, Temple University, the Lighthouse Arts Camp in Philadelphia, and in the Philadelphia school system. When the Café Theater closed, she continued to teach and direct, and produced Theater in the Park productions at the former Spring Garden College.

She was born Catalina Morris in West Virginia and was adopted after her mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918. She received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Fairmont State College in West Virginia. She and her future husband met at a radio station in Fairmont.

By the time the couple moved to Mt. Airy in 1951, both were experienced actors. They had performed in community theater and radio drama, and, while living in Cincinnati, had produced operas.

Mrs. Shaffmaster is survived by daughters Lisa and Kristina Meredith; sons Frederick Jr. and Eric; eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2002.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Memorial donations may be made to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 612 Arbutus St., Philadelphia, PA 19119.

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