Backstage at Broadway Theater

Yesterday you saw the public areas of Broadway Theater. Today we’ll go backstage and into the dressing rooms and basement areas. [Note: the photos are dated 12/16/2010. They should have been marked 2011. That’s what happens when you are working at 3 in the morning. Thanks to Gail Jackson Brown for pointing that out.]

The Broadway was a full-blown theater with an orchestra pit and a stage where vaudeville actors performed.

Dad used to talk about pulling his little wagon loaded with sheet music for the woman who played the piano during the silent movies. Because we all know that Steinhoffs never embellish the truth, none of us ever challenged him. In 2007, I made my usual Sunday night call back to Cape. Mother said she had read the obit of the woman who used to play the piano in the silent movies. She was 101.

Dressing room walls are bare

A lot of old theaters I’ve been in have autographs of actors scrawled all over the walls backstage and in the dressing rooms. The only marks I could see here looked like they might have done recently with lipstick.

If these dressing rooms are typical, an actor’s life was far from glamorous. The rooms were tiny, with a bare bulb hanging from a cord from the ceiling and two bulbs over the mirror.

Rheostats controlled lighting

These  knife switches and huge rheostats were used to control stage lighting.

Frugal, for sure

I think this is my favorite photo from Down Below. This drawer of pencils was pulled out over what I assume to have been a work bench. Some of the pencil stubs weren’t over an inch long. THERE’S a guy who didn’t waste anything.

How to “paint” with light

I’ll go to about any length to keep from using flash. I’m not very good at it and I don’t have the equipment to do it right. Sometimes, though, you have to shoot where there’s no available light available.

There was a little light in the room in front of us, and there was just enough light coming from a room behind us to ALMOST keep me from tripping over a pipe. I perched the camera up on a rickety tripod and set the shutter to stay open for 20 seconds. I had Friend Shari push the button, then I walked around the room shooting off my electronic flash in the dark corners of the room. That’s called “painting” with light.

When I was at Ohio University, about half a dozen of us lit up a building that was about two-thirds of a block long using this technique “just for fun.” (Photographers have a strange idea of fun.) It’s a lot easier in this day of digital photography when you can see your results immediately.

The key is to have enough light to bring out detail without having hot spots. I have one that’s better lit, but I’m holding it for the blooper tape. The shadow of the camera and tripod show up in the frame.

Photo gallery of backstage Broadway

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

8 Replies to “Backstage at Broadway Theater”

  1. Ken,
    Thanks so much for the pictures of the Old Broadway. I loved that theater! One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the bench outside the restroom because I was too frightened by the Indians in the movie THE
    UNCONQUERED starring Maureen O’Hara and probably James Stewart or John Wayne so my parents let me sit there by myself. How times have changed!
    By the way, what happened to the old Orpheum Theater in Good Hope? (It was a step below the Rialto.)
    Merry Christmas and thanks again for the pictures and commentaries.

  2. Great back story Ken. I had no idea there was so much history there. The shots are dated 2010, so now I am confused, since I thought this expedition was part of your latest adventure in Cape Girardeau.
    Thanks again for bringing us all a little closer to the history we lived, and probably never knew.

    1. You are entirely correct. I made a slip of the key when I named the photos (or, more likely, I don’t have any idea what year this is). The backstage photos were all taken in 2011.

      I added a note to the top of the story thanking you for pointing out the error of my ways.

  3. Ken, you know how I am. The devices you identified as rheostats were actually variacs. A variac is a variable voltage transformer. These were used to control brightness of the stage lighting without the heat and danger that variable resistors (rheostats) would create.

  4. Great pictures and a good look at the back stage of the Broadway. i never got to go back there. The sidewalks out front of the Broadway used to have sparkles in them that shown at night from the reflection of the marque. A very cool effect for sure to any kid from Cape Girardeau in the 1950’s.
    Cornell Wilde came to the Broadway to open his new picture in 1966 “Naked Prey”…the one where it runs from the Natives (PC). Cool and even good today if you can find it.
    Keith is correct about the Variac’s. These were used in the neon business to vary the electrical current when bombarding neon tubes when making signs. Old stuff, but it worked pretty!

  5. Our family moved to Cape Girardeau in 1952 shortly before I started kindergarten at the First Baptist Church. The first movie I saw at The Broadway was Greatest Show on Earth. My father took me to a nighttime performance. I have a vivid memory of holding his hand as we approached the theater. The lights from the marquee were dazzling. But most impressive was the twinkling sidewalk in front of the theatre. I was so excited by that spectacle that I dropped my father’s hand and starting tap dancing on the sidewalk!! In 2005 my husband and I attended a wedding reception in Cape. I made a point of finding the theater to see if the sidewalk still existed. Sadly, most of the sparkle was gone, but I did see remnants of its glory days. Our family moved from Cape when I was in 5th grade. I have enjoyed reading your articles, Ken. I especially like seeing pictures of my former classmates when they were teenagers (Class of ’65).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *