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Star honors Bielenberg

John Bielenberg, professor emeritus, at Watters Theater in the Fine Arts Building. He was honored Saturday with a star on Binghamton’s Sidewalk of Stars.
John Bielenberg, professor emeritus in the Theatre Department, was honored Saturday with a star on the Sidewalk of Stars in downtown Binghamton.

Bielenberg, who came to Binghamton in 1966, retired in 1997 but stayed on as a Bartle professor and then as an adjunct. The longtime Vestal resident, who now lives in Belfast, Maine, continues to do production work for the Theatre Department’s shows.

Though he made numerous contributions to the department, including serving as chairman for 15 years, Saturday’s honor focused on Bielenberg’s role as founder of Endicott’s Cider Mill Playhouse, which last year marked its 30th anniversary.

“I’m keenly aware that they wouldn’t be honoring the guy who conceived the now-defunct and barely remembered Cider Mill Playhouse,” he said. “It’s a collective star for the Cider Mill Playhouse.”

The University ran the playhouse from its founding until 1991, and it initially was seen as a way to offer summer theater opportunities for students.

By the third year, winter and spring shows joined the schedule. The department was then mounting 10 or 11 productions in Endicott as well as shows on campus, all without the big shop now found backstage at the Anderson Center.

“It was an all-consuming effort, but well worth it for everybody,” Bielenberg said.

He believes the Cider Mill improved town-gown relations. It certainly made working in the Theatre Department more interesting, as faculty members had more opportunities to direct and act. “At a lot of schools, those teaching acting never act again,” he noted. “You don’t have time to do it.”

Bielenberg was involved behind the scenes with numerous productions, mixing technical work with acting and directing.

He is perhaps best known for playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol for about 18 years until the late 1990s. Bielenberg even returned to direct the production at the Cider Mill last winter. “It was rewarding,” he said, “because it was one of those shows that always worked.”

Bielenberg, 73, received his bachelor’s degree from Carroll College in Wisconsin, a master’s degree from Northwestern and a doctorate from Ohio State.

He also served 18 months with the Army in Germany after World War II. Even there, he found a way to bring theater into his life, staging South Pacific and other shows on the post.

“We were theoretically patrolling the Czech border,” he said, “but I was really putting on shows.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08