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Banking on Comedy

October 15, 2004—Comedy and improv are the weekly staples at the Vault Theater, housed in a little triangular building in Natrona, Pa.

Comedic Theatre

The Vault Theater company was founded by Oakmont residents Scott and Tara Mascara Whitehair and David Fedor, all graduates of the IUP Class of 2002.

Dave Fedor, Scott and Tara Whitehair

Left to right: Dave Fedor, Scott and Tara Whitehair

“Tara and I were nontraditional students when we met in professor T.K. Wilson’s English class during our junior year,” said Scott. “He was a mentor to me for most of my college career, and I’m confident that I would not have made it through IUP without his support. The time I spent smoking cigarettes with him on the Leonard Hall steps or B.S.-ing in his office between classes was a priceless part of my education.”

Scott and Tara met Dave at IUP through the improv troupe The Funny People. When the group dissolved, Scott and Dave formed The Near Professionals with several other people. They performed at the HUB, the Brown Hotel, and H.B. Culpeppers, as well as a near-sellout show at the Indiana Theater building.

During 2001-2002, Dave and Scott produced, wrote, and performed in the IUP-TV show Fuzzy Channels, featuring a collection of short films and sketches that often included students, faculty, and townspeople.

An Intimate Setting

The Vault Theater

The Vault Theater

Scott and Tara were wed in October of ’02. The following January, Scott and Dave began performing a two-man comedy act at “open mic” nights in Pittsburgh and Ohio comedy clubs such as the Improv and Funny Bone. But the bar crowds were often inattentive or unresponsive, and they became discouraged.

“Just about the time we were ready to re-evaluate it all, I received a phone call that changed everything,” said Scott. “A friend of mine let me know that the operators of a small theater in Natrona were closing up shop and heading to New York. I had been to the theater before, and out of curiosity, went down to check it out.”

He and Tara talked about it all night, called Dave, and had the theater rented by the end of the week.

“The building itself is very old,” said Scott. “At times, it was a bank, a hotel, an antique store, and storage space for a contractor.” It was renovated into a theater space about four years ago. “With such an old building, there’s a lot of maintenance and a leaky roof, but so far we have been lucky enough to avoid any major repairs.”

The theater setting is intimate. With room for seventy people, the farthest seat is only about twelve feet away from the thrust stage.

The most unusual feature is the dressing room/green room—it’s the bank vault, original door and all, standing just behind stage right.

One of their first big shows was a family Christmas show in November of 2003, featuring light humor and musical numbers. Since then, Dave and Scott along with other local actors performed a weekly improv show called “Show and Tell,” a food-themed sketch show called “Chronic Mastication,” and music on Friday nights that includes jazz, blues, metal, pop country, rock, and folk.

A Creative Laboratory

The door to the dressing room/green room

The door to the dressing room/green room

Dave, Scott, and Tara have a hand in most of the theater’s operations, from promotion to vacuuming the lobby.

“Tara is the house manager and takes care of the business end for the most part,” said Scott. “She is the most supportive person I’ve ever had in my life and keeps me sane when things get to a breaking point.

“I plan and organize most of the upcoming events, rehearsals, and workshops. Dave maintains the website [www.thevaulttheater.com] and is a wiz at creating top-notch props and scenery with almost no budget. He and I work together on the creative end, collaborating with the assistance of a small but outstanding group of local actors and writers.”

The trio is looking to broaden its work with children’s theater, a poetry night, and some experimental productions. Although they plan on running the Vault into the foreseeable future, they do not look on it as a permanent arrangement.

“We consider it sort of a laboratory in which to experiment and learn while getting ready for the next step in our careers,” said Scott. “We’ve had solid support from the people of the Alle-Kiske Valley and are happy to be a positive influence in the community. But as far as the actual college degrees go, all three of us have yet to put them to use and work as servers in local restaurants to pay the bills.

“Tara is devoted to eventually returning to the classroom as an English professor and may even return to IUP for her master’s degree. For me and Dave, the dream is simple: to make a comfortable living while working in a creative field. No more day jobs.”

Scott is considering going back to school for an M.F.A., but is also looking seriously at an eventual move to Chicago or New York to study sketch writing and improv.

“Dave’s future plans include getting married at least six times and getting back into the production of a television show,” said Scott. “We’d also like to continue working together on creative projects.”

Unfortunately, in the time since IUP Magazine went to press, the Vault Theater was forced to close its doors. Years of neglect and an excess of rain took its final toll when part of the ceiling collapsed and the landlord was unwilling to make immediate repairs. Scott, Tara, and Dave are considering their next steps. “We have no immediate plans,” said Tara. “We’ll just have to figure out where to go from here.”