Max Poorman moved to Berne, Indiana from Illinois when he was very young. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, he returned to Indiana met his wife Mabel and began working in the Ft. Wayne area. In the summer of 1955, the Poorman’s neighbors kept talking to them about a new playhouse that was opening soon in Warsaw. It was going to be Indiana’s first theatre-in-the-round. When Max heard this, his first thought was, “They’re gonna be backwards to us?!” Max had acted in high school so he was very familiar with how important it was to NOT turn your back to the audience when performing on a proscenium style stage. But theatre-in-round was whole new experience for him. He and Mabel decided they would just have to try it out and see how this theatre-in-the-round would work!

And they fell in love with it! Every summer since 1955, Max and Mabel would leave their kids with friends or family every other week, to go out for date night at the Wagon Wheel. They saw it transform from a tent, to the theatre standing today. And they shared many treasured memories as husband and wife attending the theatre-in-the-round. Mabel passed away in January 2012 but Max continues to come each summer, sitting in the front row of Section 4 with his daughter Arlene.

As our 64th Summer Season begins, we sat down with Max and he took us back to Day One at the Wagon Wheel…

“I’ve been coming to the Wagon Wheel since 1955. It was just a tent then, and I remember the chickens in the back clucking away during the shows. It didn’t bother me. I grew up on a farm so the animal noises just felt like home to me. When they replaced the tent with the wooden building in the 60s, they had windows along the side. There was no glass in the windows, so when it rained they rolled down some burlap flaps to keep the rain out! The seating was canvas lawn chairs and the floor was just dirt and gravel. It was amazing what they did. And in the round too! We’d never heard of theatre-in-the-round before that!”

Max will turn 96 this summer and he has never missed a summer show at the Wagon Wheel. Since 1955 he has seen over 400 productions at the theatre! Some of his favorites were South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, Big River, and My Fair Lady. When the Director’s Club was established, Max and Mabel joined to give a little extra support to the theatre and receive complimentary tickets which they used to bring business associates, friends, and family to the shows. One of Max’s favorite memories at the Wagon Wheel was traveling with the late Tom Roland (previous Artistic Director at the Wagon Wheel) and other Director’s Club Members to London.

We saw Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, and Phantom of the Opera. We left the day after Christmas. All of us parked our cars at the Wagon Wheel, got on a bus, drove to Ft. Wayne together, and flew off to London! The night we saw Cats we were approaching the theatre and there were all these people outside. The line went all around the block. I asked, ‘are all those people standing in line to buy tickets!?’ Mr. Roland explained that they were in line to hopefully buy tickets off other patrons because the show was sold out!”

When asked what makes the Wagon Wheel so special, Max said friendship.

“We made great friendships over the years at the Wagon Wheel. We sat by the same people almost every year. While most of them have now passed, I still remember sharing stories with some of them, traveling to London with others, and building community with so many nice people.”