Indie film is about life along 'Route 30'

October 05, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

Filmmaker John Putch has written about what he knows in his latest independent movie, "Route 30."

In making it, he's doing what he loves.

The movie is fun and it's silly, but it's also a touching tribute to making a life in the arts.

Born in Chambersburg, Pa., Putch is the son of actress Jean Stapleton and the late William H. "Bill" Putch, producer/director at Totem Pole Playhouse, a summer stock theater in Fayetteville, Pa., for nearly 30 years until his sudden death in 1983.

"Route 30" intertwines three stories that Carl Schurr says celebrate the "eccentricity" of South Central Pennsylvania, and it has a "grand time doing it." Schurr, who recently stepped aside after 25 years as Bill Putch's successor, appears in the film.

John Putch was 5 when he made his debut in "Showboat" at Totem Pole. He acted in 35 productions.

"It was such a magical life," he told me in a 2000 interview.


Putch lives in California. He's done some acting and has directed lots of television as well as his own independent films.

He returned to Franklin and Adams counties last fall to make "Route 30."

His cast includes nationally known performers, but it also features "local icon" Ed Gotwalt of Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum and Totem Pole's Schurr and Wil Love.

In "Gentlemen Actors Of Caledonia," a podcast on the movie's Web site,, Putch called Love and Schurr "two great forces in my childhood."

Schurr was artistic director of Totem Pole for two and a half decades; Love acted in 143 shows and directed 41 in his 38 Totem Pole seasons. They are "stepping aside" from their playhouse positions to pursue other parts of their lives, including membership in the resident company of Everyman Theatre in Baltimore.

"I learned my craft from people like Carl and Wil," Putch told me. The two were in Super 8 movies he made as a kid, he said.

Directing the pair in "a real film" in a setting that meant so much to him was a joy for Putch. He wrote his script with them in mind.

"And it only makes me look great 'cause they're great actors," he quipped.

Putch said he threw Love the tough job of playing a "likeable, motor-mouth, religious-type zealot."

"I love the part," Love said.

Schurr portrays Wolfard, the caretaker of a professional theater somewhere in Pennsylvania.

It meant a lot to Putch to have Schurr play the character who interacts with Original Bill - the character he says is a blend of his father and himself.

"I'm doing what I've always wanted, and I gotta tell you, I've never felt better about it," Original Bill says, a line that is pure Putch.

You won't see "Route 30" in your neighborhood multiplex, and that's just fine with its creator. It's beginning to make film festivals rounds, and will be available on DVD.

The film was slated for an Oct. 3 showing at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, Pa. It had a sold-out screening at the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg, Pa., on Sept. 27, a benefit for the nonprofit Totem Pole Playhouse, Inc., and Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to show this movie here and to you all," Putch said to the packed house.

Members of the cast and crew were on hand.

Producer Jonathan Taylor, Putch's childhood friend and a busy commercial designer, said when Putch contacted him about the film, he wondered how he'd manage taking a month off.

He learned a lesson from his involvement: "Do the things that matter to you, no matter what the cost."

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at

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