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.

Broadway Theater: WOW!

I’ve always had a mental checklist of places I wanted to photograph in Cape. High on the list was the Broadway Theater. I shot the exterior in 2001 when it had a cheesy facade covering the original brick. I shot it in 2009 from the outside, but could do no more than peer through the glass at junk and a faded carpet inside.

I told someone, “That place is either one match away from an insurance claim or a strong wind from a roof collapse.”

Phillip Davis is starting a business

About two weeks ago, I saw the doors open and some kind of display on the sidewalk. I walked up and introduced myself to Phillip Davis, who is leasing the building for the next 18 months to sell beauty supplies, clothing and cellphone accessories from what used to be the lobby. He said I could look around, but I couldn’t take any photos without getting the OK from the owner. It took a week, but Phillip and I finally put all the pieces of the project together.

Jim Stone, Shari Stiver and I were supposed to have a mini-reunion the previous weekend, but Shari begged off because of bronchitis. I knew I was going to need a helper on this job and I knew that Shari had been a general contractor doing building rehab in St. Louis, so I asked her if she felt well enough to come down to help. She jumped at the chance to see the landmark building.

Phillip told us to meet Qiunan Tang, a SEMO student from China. He opened the place up, flipped a bunch of circuit breakers and let us have free run. We spent four hours combing every inch of the place and could have spent twice that time except that I needed to shoot something else that afternoon and Shari had to get back to the big city. I’d like to come back and do the job with some additional lights.

Pictures ARE worth thousands of words

There are some stories where you just have to get out of the way and let it tell itself. I’m not going to bog you down with a bunch of history or I-remember-whens. I’ll let you folks do that in the comments. I look forward to hearing your memories. In this case, pictures ARE worth thousands of my words.

This is a composite of six photos stitched together into a panorama by Photoshop. That’s why there’s ragged white space around the edges. I was working with a tripod with a leg that was trying to collapse, so all of the frames weren’t exactly square with each other. I wanted to have the best detail possible, so I locked the “film” speed at 200 and opted for long shutter speeds. Click on any photo to make it larger. I made the panoramas about twice the size of my normal horizontal shots so you can see the detail in the photos.

Let’s just say the Broadway WAS spectacular and it’s still in remarkable shape. The seats are in good condition (plastic arm rests with cup holders have been added); most of the wall sconces are intact and working; the seats in the balcony have been removed and the projectors are gone; the orchestra pit has been floored over with steps that lead to the stage. Many of the rich tapestries that lined the walls are still hanging.

There’s some peeling paint and some plaster has fallen off, but there’s no major leaks apparent, no rodents scurrying around (although birds have gotten into the building and left their deposits in a few spots) and no obvious signs of mold.

Other Cape area movie stories

Photo gallery of the public areas

These photos were taken in 2001, 2009 and 2011. Tomorrow I’ll run a gallery of places the public has probably never seen: the dressing rooms, mechanical areas and basement. There’s almost as much space below the theater as there is in the seating area. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery. What do YOU remember about the theater?


Purple Crackle Becomes The Pony

On our way over to Thebes this afternoon, we passed The Pony, a “gentleman’s club” that used to be the Purple Crackle. I commented that I didn’t think I had ever been in the Crackle or the old night club near it, The Colony Club.

Mother said, “I’ve danced there.”

I assumed that meant that she and Dad had gone there in its heyday for a nice evening of entertainment, but I’ve watched enough lawyer shows to know that it’s a bad idea to ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. I let the topic drop and pretended an interest in the road construction along the way that has apparently stalled.

A typo made the Purple Grackle the Crackle

You can tell when you start calling up old newspaper stories that every rewrite pulls stuff out of what we called, in the old days, The Morgue. You can count on reading the same accounts and anecdotes every time an editor says, “We haven’t done a story about so-and-so in five or 10 years. See what you can dig up.” You hustle out to find some minor new peg, then go back to see Sharon Sanders in what’s now called The Library.

So, I don’t know if it’s true or not that the place was supposed to be named the Purple Grackle when it opened in 1939, but a 1979 story quotes owner Clyde “Bud” Pearce Jr. as saying “The club didn’t have a very extravagant beginning. It opened with a bottle in a box and a crap game. And the name — Purple Crackle — was a mistake. My father had named the club the Purple Grackle, after the bird, but I guess the crack of the dice led everyone to call it Crackle, and the name stuck.”

Since I have no direct knowledge of the facts, I’ll perpetuate the story like any good reporter.

Goodman, Ellington and Herman played up front

Up front was band music played by the greats: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Woody Herman. Hometown boy Jerry Ford played the trumpet there when he was 15. The house band, Jack Staulcap’s Orchestra, made more than 850 appearances before the club’s format changed in 1979. The club was known for having some of the first and best Chinese food in the region.

In the back, legend has it, was gambling.

The landmark business transitioned to a “gentleman’s club” in 2006.

Clubs kept blowing up or catching fire

I can remember hearing people talking about mob activities in Southern Illinois. Night clubs and juke joints seemed to blow up and / or catch fire on a regular basis. Dad said you’d better keep your life insurance paid up if you were in the pinball machine business in Illinois.

Missourian reporter Ray Owen mentioned that “The first bomb dropped on United States soil was in Williamson County [Illinois] when members of the Shelton gang flew over the Charlie Birger roadhouse and tossed three dynamite bombs at the Shady Rest. The only one to explode did little damage.”

One-Shot Frony came into The Missourian sporting a new telephoto lens one afternoon. “What are you going to do with that?” I asked him.

“I going to stand over here in Missouri and shoot corruption in Illinois,” he growled.

The Purple Crackle burned at least twice, with two men arrested for arson in a 1984 fire. A 1982 fire was blamed on a neon sign.

East Cape depended on Purple Crackle taxes

Purple Crackle owner Bud Pearce was instrumental in the birth of East Cape Girardeau. In 1975, when the area reached a population of more than 400, he led the drive for incorporation.

His business was essential to the city. When it burned in 1982, the village board had to cancel plans for landscaping and equipping the city park due to the loss of tax revenue from the night club. Pearce estimated that he paid about $500 a month in sales tax to the village. When the club burned again in 1984, the tax roll took a similar hit.

Stories about the Crackle and East Cape

I’m sure some of you have stories that are more interesting than the ones from The Morgue. Just don’t share any about my mother dancing.

The Riley Treehouse

Before it got cold and while the whole West Palm Beach Clan was in town, we stopped by Wife Lila’s sister’s house for some good backyard cookin’. Don and Marty Riley have a much-climbed tree in their backyard that they turned into a really cool treehouse.

I saw in Internet definition: “Tree houses, treehouses, or tree forts, are platforms or buildings constructed around, next to or among the trunk or branches of one or more mature trees while above ground level. Tree houses can be used for recreation, work space, habitation, observation or as temporary retreats.”

Sure sounds right to me.

Treehouse photo gallery

This is a cut above the treehouse I built in the side lot walnut tree when I was about ten. It was a platform only about three by three 30 feet up in the air. Even I had enough sense not to get out on the end of it, and that’s when I weighed about 28 pounds. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. That’s Grandson Malcolm, by the way, on the swing. He gave it his approval.