With its steel mills and strong manufacturing base, Youngstown was known for decades for exporting products around the country and around the world.
Bernie Appugliese would like to add theater to the list of exports for which the Mahoning Valley is known.
Appugliese was a regular on local stages in the '80s and '90s until he moved to Chicago in 1998 to work in the entertainment department at the city's Navy Pier. Performing eventually took a back seat to writing, and Appugliese decided to come back home.
Some of the motivation to return was practical - the cost of living is cheaper here than Chicago - but that wasn't the only factor.
''I love the idea of creating something in Youngs-town and taking it to other places,'' Appugliese said.
Appugliese had a staged reading of one of his plays, ''Speaker of the House,'' performed by James McClellan and Lynn Nelson Rafferty for an invited audience in February at the Youngstown Playhouse. He will stage a full production of his farce, ''Gloria Birnbaum's Broadway Debut,'' in August at the Oakland Center for the Arts. The cast for ''Birnbaum'' includes Josh Lewis, Carla Gipson, Chuck Simon, Tom O'Donnell and Maureen Collins.
'''Speaker of the House' will get a full production next summer, either in Youngstown or Cleveland,'' he said.
Theater companies in western Pennsylvania and Chicago have expressed an interest in Appugliese's plays, and he also is working on short film projects that he expects will be produced locally next summer.
Appugliese's efforts coincide with a growing trend locally to showcase area playwrights. J.E. Ballantyne Jr.'s historical plays and works inspired by classic literature frequently are staged by the Victorian Players. Several theater companies will stage original works by Boardman native Michael Dempsey in their upcoming seasons, and Robert Dennick Joki built the season for his Rust Belt Theater Company around original works.
While these people largely are working independent of each other, Appugliese believes the trend may be a sign of the economic times.
''I think the traditional way of doing theater has gotten so expensive,'' he said. ''Every theater is crying about money woes, so let's have a season where we're not spending the first $15,0000 on (paying play) royalties.''
Appugliese said he would love to see a theater company with a season featuring one of his plays along with one by Dempsey, one by Joki and one by Ballantyne.
And the Youngstown Playhouse is helping to cultivate the next wave of local playwrights. Auditions are planned at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Playhouse for the first Voices of the Valley One-Act Play Festival. Staged readings of three one-act plays by local writers will be presented at the Playhouse in July. Appugliese is one of the judges for the festival along with Gipson and Youngstown State University assistant theater professor Matthew Mazuroski.
''You don't think that there is a writer living next door to you,'' he said. ''We got submissions from senior citizens. We got submissions from 18-year-olds.''
The three jurors still were deciding earlier this week which plays would be chosen.