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Posts Tagged ‘Theatre’

English: Full sign of the Louisville Palace, b...

Louisville Palace, by user Innominate on Flickr http://flickr.com/photos/seemesnap/210663249/, using a compatible Creative Commons license. I reduced and cropped the image, and I release my changes under the same license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THURSDAY’S TOP TEN  this week is a trip down the nostalgic road that used to lead to the grand movie palaces of the past, the beauties I featured a couple of weeks ago; See https://pbenjay.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/art-deco-theaters-abound-in-california-fab-foto-friday/ and those little niceties that those of us who grew up in the40’s and 50’s took for granted even in our own small town local movie house.  You could be in any town USA and locate the movie theater by its illuminated large vertical sign with the name of the theater and below it the triangular marquee lit with hundreds of light bulbs announcing the title of the movie playing.  Now we have faceless movieplexes, devoid of charm and character.  So hey Gen X & Gen Y – this is what you missed!

THE RED VELVET CURTAIN:  As patrons entered the movie theater prior to showtime, they naturally lowered their voices and spoke in hushed tones as they found their seats. There was something about the lush, heavy red velvet curtain covering the screen that gave the auditorium an aura of majesty and demanded that people be on their best behavior. When folks were seated, they talked quietly among themselves, which was possible because the latest pop hits weren’t blaring out of oversized sub-woofers. If there was any soundtrack, it was atmospheric Muzak playing softly in the background. When the lights dimmed and the curtains parted with a flourish, the audience fell silent in anticipation.  Curtains haven’t covered movie screens since theater owners figured out how to turn those screens into temporary billboards. Today the screen is almost never blank; if the main feature isn’t showing, then a constant slideshow of advertisements and trivia questions is.

UNIFORMED USHERS:  Those gallant men and women who escorted you to your seats at the cinema used to dress in more finery than a decorated soldier. But that was at a time when movie ushers did much more than tear tickets and sweep up spilled popcorn; they kept an eye out for miscreants attempting to sneak in without paying, offered a helpful elbow to steady women walking down the steeply inclined aisle in high-heeled shoes, and were quick to “Shhh!” folks who talked during the movie. Ushers carried small flashlights to guide patrons who arrived after the movie had started, and they were also the ones who maintained order when the film broke and the audience grew ornery. Of course, cell phones hadn’t yet been invented, so doctors or parents who’d left youngsters home with a babysitter often mentioned such to the usher as they were seated, so he’d be able to find them during the show if an emergency phone call was received for them at the box office.

DISH NIGHT:  One gimmick that kept movie theaters operating during the very lean 1930s was Dish Night. Money was obviously very tight during the Great Depression, and families had to be extremely cautious when it came to any discretionary spending. A night out at the movies was an unnecessary luxury, and cinema audiences dwindled. Theater owners lowered their ticket prices as much as they could (sometimes as low as 10 cents for an evening feature), but what finally put bodies in seats was Dish Night.
Salem China and a few other manufacturers of finer dinnerware struck deals with theaters across the U.S., selling the theater owner their wares at wholesale and allowing their products to be given away as premiums with each ticket sold. Sure enough, soon housewives were demanding that their husbands take them out to the Bijou every week in order to get a coffee cup, saucer, gravy boat, or dinner plate to complete their place setting. One Seattle theater owner reported by distributing 1000 pieces of china costing him $110 on a Monday night, he took in $300—a whopping $250 more than he’d made the previous Monday.

ASHTRAYS:  Movie theater seats didn’t come equipped with cup holders until the late 1960s, and even then it was something of a novelty that only newer cinemas boasted. What every seat did have for many decades before then, however, was a built-in ashtray. You can probably guess why that particular convenience has gone the way of the dodo bird: fire regulations and second-hand smoke dangers and all that.

NEWSREELS:  Before TV became ubiquitous, most Americans had to get their breaking news from the radio or the daily newspaper. But neither one of those sources came equipped with moving pictures. Hence, the newsreel, a brief “you are there” update on what was going on in the world, was invented. Newsreels were commonly shown prior to the main feature and was the only way most people first saw actual film footage of events like the Hindenburg explosion or the Olympic games.

DOUBLE FEATURE AND CARTOON:  Movie patrons of yore certainly got a lot of bang for their buck (actually, more like their 50 cents) back in the day. Very rarely would a cinema dare to show just a single motion picture—patrons expected a cartoon or two after the newsreel, and then a double feature. That is, two movies for the price of one. Usually the second film was one that wasn’t quite as new or perhaps as prestigious as the main attraction, which is why we oldsters sometimes still describe a bad B-movie as “third on the bill at a double feature.”

EXQUISITE DECOR;  There’s a reason that some of the larger downtown theaters in big cities were called movie palaces—thanks to elaborate architecture and decorating the Riviera or the Majestic were probably the closest most Americans would get to a palatial setting. Such cinemas were called “atmospheric theaters” because they were built and decorated with a theme, often one featuring a foreign locale such as a Spanish courtyard or a South Asian temple. Atmospheric theaters had lobbies that were several stories tall with one or more grand chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. No wonder folks dressed to go to the movies back then; wouldn’t you feel out of place wearing jeans and a baseball cap amid such splendor?

CRY ROOMS: Those elaborate movie palaces had many amenities that not every neighborhood theater had, including “cry rooms.” A cry room was a soundproofed elevated room in the back of the theater with a large glass window in front so Mama could still watch the movie (and hear it over a public address system) while trying to calm down a fussy baby. Many theatres that provided cry rooms also came equipped with electric bottle warmers, complimentary formula, and a nurse on duty.

SERIALS:  A staple of the Kiddie Matinee was the Chapter Play, or Serial. Always filled with action and adventure, and either cowboys or space creatures, these 20-minute shorts were continuing stories that ended each installment with a cliff-hanger. And if even if the producers sometimes cheated and the hero managed to survive an automobile explosion even though he hadn’t gotten out of the cockadoodie car in last week’s episode, kids made sure they got their chores done and weekly allowance in hand early each Saturday. No one wanted to be the only kid on the playground Monday who hadn’t seen Crash Corrigan battle Unga Khan and his Black Robe Army.

“LADIES PLEASE REMOVE YOUR HATS” SIGNS:  A staple of the Kiddie Matinee was the Chapter Play, or Serial. Always filled with action and adventure, and either cowboys or space creatures, these 20-minute shorts were continuing stories that ended each installment with a cliff-hanger. And if even if the producers sometimes cheated and the hero managed to survive an automobile explosion even though he hadn’t gotten out of the cockadoodie car in last week’s episode, kids made sure they got their chores done and weekly allowance in hand early each Saturday. No one wanted to be the only kid on the playground Monday who hadn’t seen Crash Corrigan battle Unga Khan and his Black Robe Army.

A special thanks and shout out to my chief  “Sourcerer” Gail,  who sent me the link to the Mental Floss web site where this was featured.

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Last night we were invited to go to the theater as guests of our friends, David and Sarah,  It was a very special theatre in that the play was produced and performed by members of the Amateur Comedy Club.  Which by the way does not mean that it is a comedy club as we know them today.  The group puts on all kinds of plays.  So far this all sounds pretty normal but….

The Historic Amateur Comedy Club

The Historic Amateur Comedy Club

First, some history of the ACC –  The Amateur Comedy Club was founded on April 18, 1884 by seven gentlemen amateur actors to produce comedies.  They were all former members of the Madison Square Dramatic Organization which, as its name suggests, was devoted to the production of dramas, and they wanted a change.  The Club’s first production took place a year later on February 13, 1885, at the University Club Theater.  Events came full circle 25 years later when the “Comedy Club” dropped the requirement that it only produce comedies which, at that time, were usually light and forgettable things.  In 1909, some “brash young members” rebelled, and since then the Club has produced comedies, tragedies and musicals.  But for that change, the Amateur Comedy Club might have disappeared years ago.  Instead, it is now the oldest continuously performing theatrical company in the United States.

The Clubhouse… The Club is located in two former carriage houses located in Sniffen Court, a mews on East 36th Street in Manhattan’s Murray Hill District.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, they were built in the 1860’s and acquired by the Club and adapted to their present configuration  in 1918: a theatre downstairs, with a green room, work room, dressing rooms and a kitchen upstairs.  A corner of the Green Room serves as the administrator’s work space.

Over the years the Club has accumulated a fascinating archive of New York theatre memorabilia, a photographic record of its productions and curious objects, some of which adorn the Green Room where members and guests congregate over coffee at intermissions.   There is also carefully preserved an unbroken collection of Amateur Comedy Club playbills dating from the first production in 1885.

So as you could see this wasn’t exactly your normal theater!  Add that to the fact that attendees at Friday night and Saturday night performances are required to wear black tie attire.  That was almost the best part!  We got dressed up;  Peter in a vintage 1937 tuxedo and I in my usual black on black with a very glam 1930 ish cut velvet duster.  What’s more the invitation came by email on Friday morning at 5:14am – sort of short notice!

AND Peter had an operation on Wednesday (and not really all that minor) and came home on Thursday and here it was Friday and he was out on the town in a tux by Friday night.  I can tell you if it had been me who had the operation I would be in my pajamas till Sunday.

The play, Ramshackle Inn was a hilarious comedic murder mystery that took place in a run-down hotel in Maine.  The casting was terrific, the member/actors wonderful and the whole evening a delight.  After the play, we all went back upstairs to the Green Room where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of champagne.  Peter was of course, in his element, surrounded by women in evening and cocktail dresses and I and every other woman in the place appreciated the male contingency all dapper in tuxedos.  Don’t men know that women LOVE to see men in tuxedos?

Lori, Peter and David in the Green Room

Lori, Peter and David in the Green Room

Chris (actor) and Peter

Chris (actor) and Peter

 

And as true New Yorkers, we left the theatre and hopped on a bus going uptown,  Only in New York do you see  a tuxedo-clad gentlemen and his date riding a public bus uptown!!

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