No Refund Theatre Continues To Thrive From Humble Beginnings

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No Refund Theatre has been bringing both old favorites and new shows to Happy Valley for years. But even if you’ve attended a performance in the past, most Penn Staters have never gotten a good look at the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

No Refund Theatre (NRT) is a student-run organization that produces and performs different plays almost every weekend throughout the academic year. Though the club’s exact founding date is unknown, university records trace NRT back to 1993 when the organization put on a production of the student-written play “Maresca.” Club founders Dan “Lester” Bonfitto and Rick Neville actually came up with the idea for the club during a late-night discussion at the State College McDonald’s.

“Once upon a time, there were these three guys who were up way too late. And like all people who don’t know what to do, where to go, and what the time was, they ended up in McDonald’s,” Neville said on NRT’s website. “The conversation took its natural flow and it eventually stopped where all conversations of a similar environment end – women – but since they didn’t know anything about that, it moved on and finally stopped on theater.”

From there, the pair gathered some of their fellow theater-loving friends to jumpstart the program. With funding from the University Scholars Program, NRT was born.

Three years ago, the club decided to pay tribute to its members’ original pieces through a playwriting competition called Tell Me a Story. Since NRT got its start by performing student-written pieces, the club picks a winner each semester and showcases the piece to the community — Ian Felker’s “The Dealer” is an example of such a piece.

(Photo: Shuyao Chen // Onward State)

So why is the group called No Refund Theatre in the first place? It turns out the name is actually just a play on words. Since all shows are free, if you don’t like the play, there’s no way to get a refund. Originally, the club nicknamed itself the “Atherton Players” since it performed shows in a study space inside the old dorm building. In fact, the club actually still had storage space in Atherton’s basement until recently.

NRT has now been performing in the Forum building for more than 20 years. The shows cover a variety types of theater — the group performs musicals, dramas, improv, and student-written pieces. Since January 1994, they have performed more than 100 shows.

The organization is open for anyone on campus to join. NRT aims to foster an inviting environment in which students of all majors and disciplines can play a role.

“The club really allows for people of all academic schedules to participate,” current club president Andrew Leite said. 

Leite himself is an English major and next year’s vice president Katie Blankemeyer is in STEM. Numerous actors are engineering or communications majors, so NRT allows the students to explore their creative side despite focusing on degrees that generally aren’t related to art.

“Every semester we have a wildly different number of people audition for our productions, including many new faces and varying numbers of familiar ones,” Leite said. “All it takes to be a member of the club is to be involved in a production once — then you get your signed certificate and you’re a member for life, even if you never audition again.”

If you’re interested in checking out one of NRT’s productions, the group will perform Ken Ludwig’s comedy “Leading Ladies ” Thursday through Saturday. For more information on NRT’s schedule of events, check out its Facebook page.

Photo By: Arif Aminuddin
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Emma Dieter

Emma is a sophomore from the ever popular "right-outside" Philly area. She has been a Penn Stater from cradle and will continue to bleed blue and white, till grave. She loves trashy romance novels, watching Netflix, and crying over cute videos of dogs. If you ever want to talk more with her about how great she is, or simply have other inquiries, feel free to email her at [email protected]

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