Monday, July 5, 2010

An Undiscovered Basement Theatrical Gallery

"Another photographer? Are you here to photograph the wedding party, too?"

I later learned that the questions came from Blair Fuller, an official with the Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City.

"Well, if it will help me get into this beautiful theatre to take some photos, then 'yes,' I'm here to take wedding photos," was my reply.

Before I got myself into a difficult situation, I asked, "Is it possible to take some photographs of the theatre?"

With that simple exchange began one of the more unusual tours of one beautiful, lovingly-restored historic theatre. It was a tour that began on the inside and worked its way to the theatre's exterior.

It soon became apparent that Blair was one of those people who take pride in the history and love to talk about the theatre with others who share their interest.

"Why don't you go up on stage. I'll turn off the bare light, so you can get the entire theatre," was his suggestion.

It was quite a view of the nearly 1900-seat theatre. Blair provided a running of the history of the theatre--so much, in fact, that I can only remember bits and pieces as I stared at the sunburst design on the ceiling, the bride sitting in the balcony (photo #2 above) preparing to be photographed by a real photographer, and the scroll work on the boxes.

Unlike the majority of older theatres we have visited, the Capitol had a huge stage. "Because of this space (on stage), we've been able have touring Broadway companies put on Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and Mary Poppins. The Lion King will tax our creativity and resources even more," added Blair.

"Let me show you the basement and the work down there that only a handful of people even know exists," offered Blair without even waiting for my eager acceptance.

What the basement held was a theatrical gallery of productions that have appeared on stage.

Here on the walls of a maze of corridors were artistic announcements of the presence of thousands of cast and production members over the years.

(Robert Goulet's signature is under the "ou" in his last name in the large letters.)

"Almost all of the traveling companies have their own graphics teams to work on set design, so a member of this team will design their "signature wall."

There must have been nearly 100 such modern-day pictographs, indicating "we were here," in the theatre's basement. It was very hard to move along quickly--even though I did photograph about 10 of these displays--since I was taking up Blair's time and my one-hour-limit parking meter was fast approaching "expired" status. But I had to photograph The Music Man work--touching on my cultural roots.

"This is a theatrical art gallery," was my frequently-stated observation.

We had seen autographs of performers on the backstage walls and a tiny dressing room in several other restored theaters, but these corridors of theatrical history were overwhelming.

"Have you seen the lobby?" asked Blair.

"I didn't take time to look around when I came in," I said, not wanting to admit that I had not taken time to even glance around when I entered in search of some authorization to take photographs.

The lobby was impressive. When the Orpheum Theatre opened in 1913, a newspaper reporter at the time described the building as “rich and restful, without vulgar or gaudy display.”

"One last thing I want you to see is at the back of the lobby.

What do you think this is?" he asked.

"A harpsichord? Some other type of musical instrument?" I ventured.

Blair opened the top to reveal a piano, but merely calling it "a piano" simply reveals my failure to remember the detail that Blair provided to describe more completely just what this magnificent antique was.

"When you go outside, look at the figures and the decorative works on the theatre's marquee and facade. All of those items are terra cotta," noted Blair.

I felt privileged to have had Blair Fuller take the time to provide the tour and the history of the Capitol Theatre.

In 1927, the Orpheum was sold and reopened as the Capitol Theatre with more seats, a new "sunburst" ceiling, and the mighty Wurlitzer organ that is still in use today.

Following a three-year renovation, the Capitol reopened in 1978 and serves as the home for Ballet West, Utah Opera, Children’s Dance Theatre, and Broadway Across America.

When I left the Capitol Theatre, the wedding party was still posing at different locations in the theatre.

My parking meter had long since expired when I arrived at the truck--but there was no piece of paper on my windshield.

A nice ending to a day of discovery.

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