Sunday, January 30, 2011

Backstage at the Baker

We continued our tour of the historic Gaslight Baker Theater in Lockhart, Texas, under the guidance of Dave Schneider.

A theater's history can come in large forms--architectural and artistic works--as well as in small forms tucked away behind or below these larger forms. Dave led us backstage to see some of those small forms.

It seems to have been a custom for actors appearing at these older theaters to leave a signed message following their appearance.

"The earliest date we've found in the theater is on this note (left)," Dave proudly noted.

I think above the date "Sept. 28, 1921" are the words "Baker Theater," but even if that is true, the words above that second line are unclear.

However, the message and signature in black ink are much more recent: "Love and Light to Everyone," Shirley Maclaine. "She signed this when she was filming some of the scenes in the theater for the movie Bernie," was Dave answer. "When she began her signature, the people with her gasped and warned her not to write over the 1921 note."

Nearby were two other names (right) of significance. The lower one, "Pee Wee," in all likelihood refers to the wife of the couple who owned the Baker at one time. (Dave mentioned it, I have forgotten their name.)

Above her nickname is the name "Buck McMillan." "We're not sure what his connection to the theater was, but he has signed his name in many places in the theater," Dave reported. (I didn't ask about "Corky.")

Dave showed us this small piece of wallpaper. Since its surface seems to have a colorful embossed pattern, it is possibly from the 1933 renovation, which brought in colorful, exotic carpets and draperies.

We also came across some examples of the pressed tin pieces that covered a portion of the ceiling.

Even though we had taken Dave away from his work preparing for the appearance of the Glenn Miller Orchestra in nine days, his desire to restore the Baker to its position as the centerpiece of the downtown's arts and music life was very apparent.

"Watch your head as you come down these steps," he advised.

The four steps brought us to a position under the stage. "That whole lighted area is now under the stage after it had been expanded. The space from where the stairs started out to this 'sweetheart' chair (seating for two) was the orchestra pit. And just to the left of this chair was where the organ was and where the organist sat when playing for the silent films," recounted Dave as he and I sat crouched in a space less than four feet high while I maneuvered my camera and tripod to get these shots.

After a 45-minute tour, Dave had to return to the renovation work; we returned to many of the scenes we had just visited to take photos.

This banner on one side wall apparently recognized local businesses that have supported the theater.

At the back wall of the theater were these two original seat backs. On them were mounted the names of Seat Sponsors who had contributed to the purchase of the seats in 1998.

Heading out to the lobby, we passed through this door which seemed to have a padded covering and buttons forming the letter "B."

The brown door marks the Ladies Room, which was original to the theater. The Gentleman's Room was "out back."

Our last stop was at the vintage popcorn machine. A bag of hot buttered popcorn would have been perfect for viewing the latest Charlie Chaplin movie from a sweetheart seat with Kate.

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