Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Plan and a Bonus

Some days begin with a clear destination in mind, and sometimes the anticipated destination is a mere introduction to an unexpected discovery.

We set out to tour the Duchamp Opera House in St. Martinville, LA. The former lobby of the opera house is a retail store (antiques and gifts), but at the end of the main isle, we saw the staircase to the Opera House.

Modest by today's standards, the Opera House offerred its guests an intimate setting for a range of performances. It was our guess that about 100 chairs would occupy this space.

Entrances and exits surrounded the stage. Following a couple of them led us through a maze that must have been interesting to navigate in the dark.

One of our turns led us to the dressing room with its walls of the names of plays, cast autographs, and comments of the actors/actresses. There didn't seem to be much room for another season's worth of etchings.

We spoke with the woman who ran the retail store in the lobby about the Opera House's history and about our interest in restored theaters and opera houses. She said that we needed to see the Teche Theater a couple of doors away.

A short walk and an open theater door led us to Terry Dupuy, owner of the Teche. Terry met us at the door, and as he walked around the lobby, he began talking about his plans for the theater. He was clearly a man with a vision and the skill to realize it.

The theater has a 3000 square-foot concert area with a stage and seating for about 250 people. Terry's goal is to produce a show similar to "Austin City Limits" (PBS show featuring artists appearing in Austin, TX) featuring local musicians (Cajun and Zydeco music) that would originate in the Teche with an audience.

The nationally-known "Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys" will appear here the last Saturday in November.

The theater is also equipped with a recording studio. Terry can record groups in either live concerts or in the sound studios. Terry has produced CDs of local artists and has worked with one of our favorite groups, "The Basin Brothers," several years ago. At his chair in the control room, Steve appeared quite capable of realizing his goal.

He teaches high school and college classes on music production in the theater, and another of his goals is to establish the Teche as a educational center for movie and TV production. (He added that Louisiana is second to Hollywood in locations for movie production.)

Terry also filled us in on the history of the Teche. In 1908, the building had been the home of a horse and buggy dealer. In the 20's, it had been transformed into a theater. In a room called "the Vault," Terry showed us two carbon arc projectors. He described the steps in the process of removing the first reel once the second reel started, rewinding that first reel, and putting the third reel on the first projector before the reel on the second projector ended.

Terry also showed us the separate entrance, ticket booth, snack bar, seats, and rest rooms that were established in the theater for Black patrons.

Terry then took us down the street to the cafe that he had purchased within the past month. The cafe, once the town bank, looked to be "in transition," but Terry said he will be opening in two weeks.

On a wall in the cafe, we found a photo of the "Teche" sign as it appeared over the theater marquee.

An interesting end to the day--getting hooked on the restoration of the previously unknown Teche Theater.

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