McMurtray retiring from Totem Pole Playhouse

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

FAYETTEVILLE — Although not originally part of her career plans, Sue McMurtray discovered show business to be her passion nearly three decades ago and hasn’t looked back since. Now, after 28 years as managing/marketing director at Totem Pole Playhouse, McMurtray is retiring and leaving a legacy that will be fondly remembered throughout the theatre community.

Sometimes the career you end up with is quite different from what you originally intended. Such is the case with Sue McMurtray. Although a career in show business was not one of her original intentions, McMurtray is retiring as managing/marketing director at South Central Pennsylvania’s famous Totem Pole Playhouse, after 28 years. Before McMurtray became a fixture at the summer theater she attended nursing school, became an x-ray technician and eventually ran the historic Penn National Inn, located nearby the Totem Pole Playhouse.

It was during her eight years running the inn that she became personally acquainted with many of the actors and staff of Totem Pole, including long-time artistic director, the late Bill Putch, and his wife, actress Jean Stapleton. After Putch’s death in 1983, Carl Schurr, one of the actors McMurtray became friends with, took over the production company as artistic director and officially brought McMurtray into the Totem Pole family as Managing Director of the production company. While it would be easy to say that the rest is history, McMurtray's history with Totem Pole is worth so much more. She was not only part of the family, she was also instrumental in many roles and functions that kept the theater running behind the scenes, and even once on-stage, when she was asked to play Mrs. Fezziwig in a production of “A Christmas Carol.”

It was, however, McMurtray’s spirit, hard work and dedication to Totem Pole Playhouse that made her so familiar to patrons, actors and staff for nearly three decades. As managing director she was responsible for just about everything to do with the actors from the time they are cast until they take the stage. McMurtray’s contributions included managing contracts, making travel and lodging accommodations and, as she has been heard saying, making sure the actors are happy campers. During her tenure she was also responsible for planning and executing advertising and publicity campaigns for the theater's productions every summer. “In the theater business there’s that old saying that the show must go on; well, everything Sue did here at Totem Pole was a major part of making sure that the shows did indeed go on for well over a quarter of a century,” said Ray Ficca, artistic director of Totem Pole Playhouse.

In addition to official duties, McMurtray was also known for making sure that members of the production staff were well taken care of especially during production changes. She was also known to pitch in and help with costuming and even the mundane daily operations that are required of any organization. “Sue was a big part of Totem Pole and after all of her years of hard work and dedication she certainly deserves a relaxing retirement,” said Nathan Rotz, Executive Director of Totem Pole Playhouse, adding “while we will miss her, we wish her nothing but the best and thank her for all she has done.”

McMurtray reflected on her career, "I've experienced 168 shows in 28 years, traveling to many different locales with each show — places I may never get to see in real life. What a joy! Not everyone has the opportunity to see the behind the scenes of a theater like I have. The magic of theater. Nor does everyone have the rare opportunity to have such a large family of friends as we do here at Totem Pole. Every summer for 28 years, I would gather a new family of at least 50 members which gives me a family of over 1,400 by now.

"It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn the trade of professional live theater at Totem Pole. I look forward to the 2013 season, the biggest, boldest and brightest season ever attempted in the theater's 63 year history. It has been such a privilege to work here."