Harrisburg Stagecraft, Part 5

Preston H. Schreffler, Actor

by M. Diane McCormick, Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

Ask Preston H. Schreffler the old joke, “How do you get an elephant out of the theater?”

He answers in the cackle of Hollywood Squares wisecracker Paul Lynde.

“You can’t. It’s in his blood.”

In the Harrisburg-area theater scene, Schreffler is that elephant. Acting is in his blood. His legacy stretches from his grandparents, stage mainstays Fred and Jean Kraft, to actor parents Nancy Kraft and Brian Schreffler, and finally, to him and his siblings. Even his mom’s brothers have been part of the theater scene.

“There’s a heritage there,” Schreffler says. “The ‘Barrymores of Harrisburg,’ they used to be called.”

At 5 years old, Schreffler saw a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“My dad was Caesar, and my mom was one of the conspirators,” he says. “I remember her stabbing him, and that didn’t freak me out. I was like, ‘Yep, stabbing my dad. That’s just how it goes.’”

Today, Schreffler navigates easily between traditional theaters and the burgeoning non-traditional scene of stripped-down shows in unconventional settings. There was sadistic Cousin Kevin in Tommy at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center. In the tight confines of McGrath’s Irish Pub, he employed his precise comic timing for Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble’s An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein.

The fun of theater keeps Schreffler involved. While rehearsing Guildenstern in Hamlet for Gamut Theatre, his Rosencrantz, David Ramon Zayas, started mirroring Schreffler’s movements. Riffing on the idea, they created poses to pair with each line. After all, it was comic relief for a four-hour production, but audiences weren’t fazed by the show’s length, he says. “They strapped themselves in and said, ‘All right! Hamlet, let’s do it!’”

He’s now appearing in Bare Bones’ Cabaret, staged this September at Federal Taphouse Harrisburg.

Non-traditional theater is “almost more fun than doing regular theater,” he says. “It’s a different atmosphere. You feed off of the crowd a little differently, maybe because there’s alcohol involved. The people there tend to be ready to be entertained.”

Theater, he adds, “gives you perspectives you might not have considered yourself. You can look into a world you haven’t necessarily been exposed to.” In the Cabaret story of desperation and decadence amid the initial glimmers of Nazi oppression, “you can see the parallels all around. This show is relevant possibly now more than ever to Americans.”

In his day job, Schreffler manages a Jos. A. Bank store. The spiffy dresser even looks presentable at home, because “you never know when somebody will knock on our door and say you have to go right now on the adventure of a lifetime.”

Schreffler doesn’t necessarily see himself as a third-generation torchbearer, but “certainly the arts and theater are important, and if I can help continue that in any way, if I can support that, then I certainly will.” Live theater “seems to be something people want. There’s a demand for it, and it’s thriving. It’s alive and well. Maybe with people being tech-savvy, you want to go out. You want to go out and be a person sometimes.”