Friday, September 30, 2011

Fire Prevention Day in Technical Theatre Class

When I took Technical Theatre in college, they didn't talk about safety.  When I was in grad school, I was the proctor for the Technical Theatre Lab and they didn't talk about safety there either.  Over the years I have been hurt and injured many times while practicing my craft.  I decided a long time ago that if I ever became the Technical Theatre teacher, I would talk about safety, and that is what I do.

I spend about three weeks at the beginning of the semester each year talking about different aspects of safety, such as personal safety, chemical safety, public safety and fire safety.  The last few years I have had the campus fire chief come and talk to my class for a couple of days.  On the first day, he talks about fire, it's causes and prevention and how to determine whether or not to fight it.  On the second day, he brings his training equipment to the shop and we go out and learn in a practical way about fighting a fire with a fire extinguisher.  It's alot of fun and the students really enjoy it.

He teaches us the acronym, PASS which stands for, Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle at the base of the flames, Squeeze the handle, Sweep side to side.  He also teaches us that you should never fight a fire unless you have cleared the area of people, called 911 or pulled the fire alarm or both, determined if the fire was still able to be fought with an extinguisher, and then never to fight a fire unless you have a clear means of egress to your back.

On fire extinguisher day, the fire chief lights the fire and the students each take a turn attempting to put it out.  They usually have the extinguisher right in front of the fire, the fire starts and the student calmly walks up to the extinguisher, pulls the pin and puts the fire out.  I decided that I needed to show them how it really was, so I always put the extinguisher away from the fire because they are never convenient to the fire in real life, then I attempt to disperse the crowd before I attempt to put out the fire.  One of my students filmed me today.

video

What can I say?  It's a theatre class.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Arsenic and Old Lace

I have wanted to design Arsenic and Old Lace for years.  I had seen the show before and had worked as a carpenter on a production in graduate school.  This is one of those plays theatre people always want to work on.  I got my chance fall semester, 2010.

The play is set in an old Victorian mansion in the early 1940's.  The Brewster family is known for insanity.  Grandfather Brewster was a doctor and always had a corpse or two hanging around the house when he was alive.  The two Brewster aunties, Martha and Abby believe it is their Christian duty to assist tired, lonely old men into the next life.  They do so by giving him elderberry wine that is mixed with just enough arsenic to do the job.

The Brewster nephews are equally crazy.  Jonathon is a serial killer and Teddy believes he is Theodore Roosevelt.  Mortimer Brewster is the only sane one of the bunch and that is suspect as the play proceeds.  It is a grand old farce that Frank Capra made into a famous movie in 1944, starring Cary Grant.

The concept of our production was spiderwebs.  The director wanted the suggestion of spiderwebs without actually having them on the set or in the costumes.  We as the design team had to decide what that meant.  I think we were quite successful.


Arsenic and Old Lace full set shot

To execute this design, I immersed myself in books about Victorian architecture and interior design.  First of all, there is nothing conservative about Victorian design and certainly the characters in the play are eccentric.  It is absolutely appropriate in this play to design it over the top.

There were several features I wished to show in the set design for Arsenic and Old Lace.  Gothic Victorian homes often had a turret.  I wanted one of those in this design.  I can only imagine that a house like this would have a secret passage way or two.  I had to have one of those.  In the film, "Psycho", the great old Victorian home has a newell post light which is a sculpture with a light attached.  It figures into one of the murders, so I thought we ought to have one of those as well.


Jonathon and the aunties in the turret


The secret door to the cellar behind the bookcase


Newell post light

When I found out who the actor was that played Jonathon, I asked him how tall he was.  He was 6'-4" tall.  Because of that, I designed the front door to be 6'-6" tall.  He was much taller than any of the other characters, so they appeared to be in proper scale to the door.  I wanted Jonathon to fill the door when he entered for the first time so he would appear to be even more menacing.  The lighting designer lit him from the back and the effect was chilling.



Jonathon's entrance

The spiderwebs showed up all over the design.  We decided that spiderwebs are characterized by connections so I looked for things that had intersecting lines.  The windows were all small diamond shaped panes, the wallpaper all had connecting lines, there were hanging lamps all over that were very spiderlike.  I also found some reproduction Victorian trim that had the shape of webs.


Spiderwebs

There were also spiderwebs in the veining of the marble, the swags of the curtains and the doilies and antimacassars (woven pieces over the backs of chairs and couches).  There were spiderwebs everywhere.

I had a very definite plan for dressing this set as well.  Victorian homes have walls covered with photographs of family members, plants on plantstands and wall sconces.  Every square inch seems to be covered with stuff.  We went for the crazy ancestor look on the walls, and found sepia prints of Victorian people and displayed them in gaudy frames.  Three of the larger pictures were photoshopped portraits of the director, the lighting designer and me.  My face was photoshopped onto a famous portrait of Martin Van Buren.

Most of the plants we used were spiderplants.  As far as wall sconces go, we had at least eight.  I believe this is the most practical lights I have ever used on a show.  Eight wall sconces, three chandeliers and a newell post lamp.  I built several of the sconces out of lamp parts that we had in the department.


The director


The lighting designer


And me

There were a few other quirky things in the set dressing.  We built an elephant foot umbrella stand out of a piece of sono tube, foam, muslin and plastic water bottles.  It just seemed that an eccentric man like Grandfather Brewster would have one of them.

Teddy often talked about his safari in Africa, and I imagined that his aunts gave him a BB gun and he took care of rodents and other varmints in the yard.  In the areas associated with Teddy, I put a stuffed squirrel, a raven and two taxidermied racoons.  I imagined that he thought they were lions and tigers and other game that Theodore Roosevelt had killed on his safari to Africa.


Elephant foot umbrella stand
This was a delightful show, and a very detailed production.  It was a pleasure to work on and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How I Spent My Autumn--Travelogue: Part I Boiling River

Yesterday was the second day of Autumn, and the weather is still nice.  We decided to take another trip to Yellowstone.  I'm not sure how many more times we'll get out this fall, but I know we'll have at least one trip to Craters of the Moon, weather permitting.  Still, I'd like to do as much as I can and see as much as I can.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to sneak into Yellowstone at night and go skinny-dipping in the hot pots.  We called it hot potting.  Everybody did it.  That makes it right, right?  There were a few legal hot pots, but most of them were illegal.  Mostly I frequented the legal ones.  I really liked the ones where you sat in the river at the point where hot water from thermal areas drained into it. 

In places like that you could position yourself to be as warm or as cool as you wished, depending on where you were in relation to the water pouring into the river.  I really enjoyed the river near Ojo Caliente and the river at Midway Geyser Basin.  Unfortunately, the river at Midway was closed because it became a real party place and the rangers grew tired of cleaning up beer cans, litter and underwear.

There was another place like this at Mammoth Hot Springs called the Boiling River.  I had heard about it for thirty years and had wanted to go there but it was never convenient for one reason or another.  We decided that the Boiling River would be our destination in Yellowstone this time.  We would see many things on our way there and many things on our way home, but the emphasis of the trip would be the Boiling River.  I must say, it did not disappoint.

On our way to Yellowstone we stopped at a place called Howard Spring.  There is a natural spring just on the Idaho side of the continental divide on the way to Yellowstone.  The Forest Service has tapped the spring and created a fountain where travellers can stop to picnic and refresh themselves.  My children believe it is the best water in the world.  We love to stop there when we travel, and my Dad used to stop there from time to time when I'd go to Yellowstone with him.  This has been a family tradition for decades.

Howard Spring is named for General Oliver Otis Howard who stopped there during his famous pursuit of Cheif Joseph and the Nez Perce.  I have always taken the side of the Nez Perce, but this is not the post to discuss that topic.


Garrett, Rhys and Chimene at Howard Spring

Last summer, the NPS (National Park Service) undertook an extensive remodel of the Gibbon Falls area.  Gibbon Falls is one of the prettiest and most accessible waterfalls in Yellowstone, and one of my favorites.  We almost always stop there when we go on the Northern Loop.

The original overlook was just a wide spot in the road where cars, rv's and tourbusses would park and people could walk along a narrow walkway for a short way along the falls.  It never seemed safe there with vehicles pulling in and out, and I was always nervous about my children there.

The new overlook is a hundred times better.  The Park Service created a parking area that is sufficient for even the peak times of the park.  They have also created a short paved trail along the river that shows the brink of the falls, the classic view and a much longer view of the falls.  The new setup is fantastic, and I think the views are actually better than they were in the past.  I heartily approve of what the Park Service did here.  They created a better situation where people can enjoy one of the great views of the park and made it far safer for children.  Bravo NPS!


Gibbon Falls

While we were at Gibbon Falls, a very large raven decided that we were parked in his territory.  He was fearless and none too happy that we were there.  I was within ten feet of him and he still didn't fly away.


The Raven

Next, we stopped at the Artist's Paint Pots nature trail.  This is another area that the NPS has improved.  The original trailhead was another wide spot in the road.  To get to the trail, you had to cross the highway and walk along a decrepit boardwalk through a swamp to get to the main trail.  I suppose because of the volume of traffic at this site, the NPS decided to make it more accessible. 

They installed a parking lot and improved the trail which can now accomodate strollers and motorized wheelchairs, one of which was there when we were.  The trail winds through a mature lodgepole pine forest for about a half mile til you reach the geyser basin.  There are pretty pools, a small geyser that was continually gushing while we were there and up the side of the hill were the mudpots.  When viewing the mudpots, Rhys, Garrett and I had a discussion about viscosity.

While this particular geyser basin isn't as showy as some of the other geyser basins around Old Faithful, it is still worth seeing.  The crowds aren't as great here as they are in other areas of the park so that makes it even better.  Another good thing the Park Service has done.


Mineralized pool at Artist Paint Pots


The view from the ridge at Artist Paint Pots


Mudpot at Artist Paint Pots

One of our favorite places in Yellowstone is Sheepeater Cliff.  The boys were anxious to go there and to climb again.  I have a hard time not stopping at this site.  It's easy to climb and very enjoyable.  We love to go there.  Sheepeater Cliff is an ancient basalt flow that cooled into jointed columns.  I have always loved columnar jointed basalt.  Sheepeater Cliff does not disappoint.  We stopped long enough for the boys and I to climb the cliff a few times and then headed to Mammoth.


Sheepeater Cliff


Columnar jointed basalt

We love waterfalls and are on a mission to see all the falls in Yellowstone.  We have a really good start.  On the way to Mammoth, we stopped at Rustic Falls at the Golden Gate of Yellowstone.


Rustic Falls brink of the falls


Rustic Falls


Yellowstone's Golden Gate

The boys were anxious that we not miss the Boiling River, and that was our next stop.  The hike was about a mile, give or take from the trailhead to the spring, but it really felt like less.  It was level and an improved gravel trail.  There were lots of cars in the parking lot and lots of people coming and going.  This is a very popular spot in Yellowstone.  I imagine it could be standing room only during the peak season.

The trail follows the Gardiner River without deviation until you get to the Boiling River.  The Boiliing River is an underground hot spring that gushes out of the side of the hill into a very short stream until it pours into the Gardiner River.  It pours into the river at several points along about a hundred yards of riverfront.  Over the years bathers have used rocks to dam the river into shallow soaking pools and placed flat rocks in front of the best spots for soaking.  We opted for the first such pool.  There were fewer people there and it was very nice.  The main soaking area was downstream from us.  Whatever the allure was for the lower area, the privacy where we were was much better. 

I have many happy memories of hot-potting, and soaking in the Boiling River brought them all back.  Soaking in the Boiling River was an item on my bucket list and it did not disappoint.  The boys were already making plans for our return trip next summer.  They said it was the highlight of the whole trip.  We will go back to Boiling River.


Headwaters of the Boiling River


Main bathing area of the Boiling River


Garrett and Rhys in the Boilng River


The boys and me in the Boiling River

There had been some road construction and delays between Norris and Mammoth, so we opted to go to Tower and swing around through Canyon instead.  It didn't really save us much time, in fact it probably cost us an hour or two, but we saw alot of neat stuff along the way.  We stopped to see several waterfalls and other attractions along the way. 

The first waterfall we stopped at was Undine Falls which is just past Mammoth on the road to Tower.  Undine falls is a beautiful three stage waterfall with sheer drops interrupted by cascades.  The easiest way to view this falls is from the road, although there is a trail to the base of the falls which we hope to hike next season.


Undine Falls

The next waterfall we viewed was Wraith Falls.  This is a hike we took a few years ago but didn't take a camera with us.  I wanted a picture of this one as evidence that we had been there.  I think the next time we go to Wraith Falls we will go closer to the spring when the water flow is heavier.  All along the path there were plants with white berries.  I don't know if it was poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac.  I wasn't about to find out.  The trail to Wraith Falls is really quite pleasant, level except for the very end when it goes up a series of switchbacks into a small canyon.  The falls is hidden until just before the lookout point.

The waterfall splits around a bulbous rock formation and most of the water goes to one side or the other with a little making it's way over the top.  During the spring runoff, I think the flow is more dramatic.  We will see when we view it next.


Wraith Falls

Along the road to Tower we saw a magnificent, lone bull bison grazing.  We stopped for a photo and he didn't even acknowledge our presence.  (Note:  we didn't vacate the vehicle)


Bison

After that, we stopped at Petrified Tree because we have seen bears on that stretch of road before and were hoping to see one yesterday.  We didn't, but we always like going to that part of the park anyway. 

At one time, Yellowstone was covered in a redwood forest very similar to California's.  A volcanic ash flow covered the forest and the trees petrified.  Over the years, erosion has exposed the harder rock of the petrified forest and left standing tree stumps and tree trunks on the hillsides.  The famous one at Petrified Tree is surrounded by an old iron fence to keep people from collecting and vandalizing. 

I also think the fence is there to misdirect people as well because on the hillside to the right of the petrified tree is a virtual forest of vertical petrified tree stumps.  We were with Nick and Cynthia a couple of years ago in the park and Nick saw something on the hillside and sprinted up.  This hill is on about a 60 degree angle, so it is not a leisurely climb.  I followed, and when I got to where Nick was there was a much larger, more impressive petrified tree stump.  This one was at least fifteen feet in diameter and we were touching it.  We counted on that hillside about twelve more equally impressive petrified tree stumps.  The NPS doesn't call attention to them because I'm sure they don't want people to know about them.  That's part of the hidden Yellowstone that I love so much.


Petrified Tree

As we were leaving the Petrified Tree area, I stopped the car because the sunset over the mountains was beautiful.  Mist had gathered in the valley and it looked like the Smoky Mountains.  I had to have a picture of it.


Yellowstone's version of the Smoky Mountains

By the time we got to Tower it was dusk, heading toward nightfall.  There was still enough light to see the waterfall, but just barely.  I didn't travel all that way to miss it, so I hiked to it and got a photo.  In years past, there was also a trail to the base of the falls which we have taken.  Unfortunately, the trail washed out this spring and I wasn't able to take it.  I hope they rehabilitate that trail for next season.  It's quite beautiful.



Tower Falls

This was a long day, but a good day.  We saw alot of stuff and did alot of things on this excursion.  I hope to get to Yellowstone at least once more before the season is ended.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oedipus

For my day job, I design scenery and lights and sometimes costumes for theatrical productions at the university where I teach.  It's a good life.  I love doing it and I love being engaged in creative endeavors.  I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Scene Design from Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University at Mankato).  I also have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre with a dual major in Psychology from Brigham Young University.  In addition to that I have an Associates of Arts and Sciences in Theatre from Ricks College.

When I was majoring in Psychology, I was amazed at how much the early philosophers and theorists in Psychology borrowed from the Greek playwrights and from Shakespeare.  I was also astonished at how much the early 20th century playwrights were influenced from early psychologists, specifically Freud but also others such as Jung.

It was a great opportunity to major in both Theatre and Psychology because I was able to reconcile both interests and relate them to each other.  I am a much better practitioner of theatre today because of my background in psychology than I would have been without it.  I believe the two are absolutely related.

One of the great plays analyzed by Freud was Sophocles, "Oedipus Rex".  I spent a great deal of time in undergraduate school studying Freud's Oedipus Complex and comparing it to not only the original play, but also Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie".  I even wrote a scholarly paper entitled, "Is Tom Wingfield Oedipus?"  My technical writing teacher thought I should flesh it out more and publish it in a professonal journal, but alas I had no confidence back then and didn't do it.  I found the paper about five years ago and reread it.  It's still a good paper.

I have always wished to design the set for Oedipus.  I have been inspired by Josef Svoboda's design for it and wanted to work on this piece.  His design was very symbolic and non-realistic.  It was essentially a coast to coast stairway with some platforms built strategically for acting areas and beam projector lights shooting up in places through a haze fog to create columns.  It was an amazing piece and it was done, I think in the 1920's.  I had always envisioned doing something similar but not copying Svoboda.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to design the set and the lights for Oedipus here at school.  The director, Hyrum Conrad thought it should be more realistic than the Svoboda piece.  When I work on a script, I have to consider it from several points of view.  I have to understand what the playwright felt when he wrote it, what the director felt when he read it, and what I felt when I read it.  If I try to impose something on the director, such as the Svoboda piece, we'll end up with a non-unified production that won't make sense.  I need to work within the concepts the director gives, otherwise the set or other design elements won't fit into the world created on the stage.

The theatre department already had two very large Greek sculptures made of foam rubber of all things.  They were each about nine feet tall.  They were colossal and  I knew I wanted to use them, and in fact I designed the whole set around them.  They were statues of Apollo and Artemus and had been used almost twenty years earlier in Antigone and hadn't been used since.  They had been stored upside down from the grid in the theatre.


Apollo


Artemus
The play is set in Thebes, one of the Greek citystates.  Hyrum didn't want the set to be reflective of Athens because that was too stereotypical of ancient Greece, instead he wished to go with some of the more obscure areas in Greece to find the inspiration for the set.  In my research I discovered that in most Greek citystates, the public areas, the seat of government and the temples to the gods were set on the highest hill in the city.  In Athens, that hill is referred to as The Acropolis.  The other Greek citystates also referred to the seat of power in their communities as acropolis' as well.

In most Greek tragedies, there is a chorus, usually made up of the 'elders and wisemen of the village'.  The chorus narrates, chants and interacts with the other characters.  In Greek plays the chorus resides in an area called the orchestra, inbetween the audience and the main actors. 

For my design of Oedipus I wanted to show that relationship, plus I wanted to create an acropolis for Thebes.  My design consisted of a set of stairs, flanked by a pair of winged sphinxes, from the audience to the stage, Oedipus' palace downstage left, a smaller temple to Apollo upstage right, an altar and a statue of Apollo.


The set design
In order to make the set look less Athenian, I took my inspiration from all parts of the Greek world and was inspired by a Greek library in Ephesus.  I based my design for Oedipus' palace on that.  It was a large, multi-story building with very large niches in the exterior walls that held grand sculptures.  For the temple, I found inspiration from many such temples all over Greece.


The temple complex

We hired an art teacher to carve the two large sphinxes.  They were really more eighteenth century sphinxes, based on funerary statues.  The riddle of the sphinx is integral to the story of Oedipus, so we translated the riddle into Greek and then carved it into the front of the sphinx pedestals.


Sphinx

Oedipus is set during the Bronze Age, so I wanted to show alot of bronze in the detail of the palace, suggesting that he who controls the bronze controls the kingdom.  I designed two very large bronze doors for the palace that only opened once, when Oedipus has blinded himself.  The doors were each four feet wide and ten feet tall.  The large doric columns across the front of the palace were each three feet in diameter and sixteen feet tall.  This was a very large set.

Set design tells you all the tangible things about the show, but lighting design tells the audience how to feel.  The great cosmic irony of the play, Oedipus Rex is that those who can see cannot see and those who cannot see can see.  Only when Oedipus has blinded himself does he really see himself for who he is.  I wanted to show this cosmic irony in the lights as well, so as Oedipus zeros in on the secrets of his origins, and becomes more illuminated as to the truth, the stage grew darker.  I did this by showing the passage of time.  The closer he got to the truth, the darker it became onstage.


First cue-full daylight


Second cue-afternoon


Third cue-late afternoon


Fourth cue-late evening


Fifth cue-nightfall

In between each cue, there was a choral ode that we used to show the passage of time.  The odes were to be lit as if they were on another plane or sphere, unworldly.  I used strong blue side light with purple fill and amber in a pattern rotator.  The lights were enhanced by a haze fog so at times they became almost architectural.


Choral ode

My two youngest sons, Rhys and Garrett wanted to be in the show, so they were cast as Polynices and Eteocles, Oedipus two sons.  Things were going great until they learned they were going to have to wear "dresses", girl sandals and have their hair curled.  We explained to them that they were tunics, not dresses and that they looked right for the part.  After they got used to it, they were good sports and did a very fine job in the show.  I was proud of them.


Rhys and Garrett with Seve Isaacs as Oedipus
I am fortunate enough to work in a theatre department that is interested in doing the classics.  This is a play I have wanted to do for my entire career.  It was a labor of love and I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to work on it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Fruit Room

We've lived in this house for eleven years now, and I have to say the shelves in our storage room have been less than satisfactory.  There was alot of wasted space and the shelves sagged because they weren't built very well.  They weren't heavy duty enough to put much food storage on them, and they were weird sized so you either packed them full and couldn't get to anything or had to leave alot of headroom and wasted space.  We made do for a long time but we were never very happy with them.

A few years ago, I acquired two custom shelf units from a friend that was leaving town.  These units were basically each, four 2X2X3 cels with hardware for adjustable shelves.  I eventually brought one down into the storage room and found that it held my canned fruits and vegetables perfectly with no wasted space.  I started measuring and discovered that I could fit both shelf units and our standup freezer along the back wall.  There was just enough room.

So this week, I deconstructed the original shelves and moved the second set of shelves down, moved the other shelves to the back wall and moved the freezer inbetween them.  Personally I'd have put them next to each other and had the freezer on the end, but I had to compromise with Chimene.  It's okay, though just a reshuffling of the same space.

When I was doing the demolition, I discovered that the people who had built them, had at the same time over and under built them.  It was insane.  The shelves had very little support, but where the cleats were attached to the walls they had used about three times too many nails.


Freezer and shelves

I'm only showing half of this because we haven't gotten the other shelves full yet.  When we do I may post a follow up pic.

The shelves are nice because I can arrange them to hold 2 quart jars, 1 quart jars, pint jars, or jelly jars.  Depending on how I adjust the shelves, I can hold the following on each shelf:

2 Quart........................25
1 Quart........................36
Wide Mouth Pint...........36
Regular Pint..................49
Jelly Jars......................64

Also across the top I can hold 44 three quart repurposed apple juice bottles full of water. 
I'm pretty pleased with how this is turning out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Romance Theatre

When I was a kid, there was a movie theater* in town named, The Romance.  The original building had been built in 1917 in the Beaux Arts style.  In that building, there were prize fights, vaudeville and burlesque shows, live plays and of course silent cinema. 

In 1935, Messrs. DeMourdant and Drennen remodelled the theater in the Art Deco style.  In doing so, they purchased the bakery next door, knocked the walls out and expanded the original building to almost twice it's original width.  Inside was decorated with beautiful plaster ornamentation that was brightly painted in the Art Deco style and colors.  We have a photo of the theatre during this time period with the 1937 version of "The Prisoner of Zenda" on the marquee.



The Romance Theatre today

This is the theater I grew up with.  Going to the movies back then was an event.  Something you planned for, saved for and cleared your schedule for.  The ticket office was just outside the front door and the line would stretch around the block.  In those days the movie houses were always full.  When you entered the theatre it was like entering another world.  People spoke in hushed tones, the house lights were turned low, just high enough for you to see your way to your seat but not dark enough to be dangerous.  In the front there was a very large curtain that covered the screen and lights in the floor warming the curtain so it looked beautiful.

At about three minutes to showtime, the main curtain went up, usually in an Austrian style (Austrian is a curtain that rises from the floor and gathers in symmetrical swags as it ascends).  Some theaters had a second inner curtain that would page open like drapes in a home.  As that was happening, the giant screen would roll down and the houselights would dim.  When this delicate choreograhy of screens, curtains and lights was finished, there might be one preview and then a cartoon.  Finally the movie would start.

These days, going to a movie is a vastly different experience  There is no main curtain, the much more modest screen is exposed and usually has a digital projector playing really bad community ads.  The patrons are loud, usually texting and otherwise generally obnoxious.  When it's showtime, there is usually fifteen minutes of previews of upcoming attractions.  Finally the lights go down and the movie begins.  The old way was much better.

When I was in grade school, a kid named Dave DeMourdant moved here from California.  Dave's dad inherited The Romance and I became Dave's friend.  Saturday afternoons were spent at the theater watching movies.  In those days you could purchase a ticket at the first showing and stay to the next.  Life was good back then.  I remember Dave and I watching "Tora, Tora, Tora" three times, back to back to back on a Saturday afternoon.  Somewhere along the line, our church congregation split and he went to one and I went to another.  Funny how imaginary boundaries like that can change things.  We kind of went our separate ways after that.  We stayed friends but were never close again.

In 1976, the Teton Dam collapsed and flooded Rexburg and the surrounding communities.  The water level in downtown Rexburg was about four to six feet deep.  The Romance Theater was flooded along with every other building in the downtown area.  The high water mark of the flood is still visible on the stage right brick wall on the stage of the theatre.  It is one of very few public places in town where you can still see the flood line.  After the flood, the DeMourdants decided to update the theater and covered all the ornate plasterwork with curtains, put new seats in, put mustard yellow melamine across the front of the building and changed the name to The Westwood Theater.  I saw "Star Wars" in The Westwood in 1977. 


The line on the dark brick is the high water mark from the Teton Dam Flood in 1977

Early in our marriage, Chimene and I saw the movie, "Aliens" at The Westwood Theater.  I have many fond memories in The Romance and then The Westwood Theater.

At some point, DeMourdant sold the theater to a major theater company and the mom and pop days were over.  The manger they hired told the big company that there was still some old theatre scenery from the vaudeville days behind the screen.  They told him to take it to the dump and discard it, tell no one about it.  I believe they didn't wish to have anyone nosing about and trying to get the theatre listed on the National Historic Register.  He followed their orders and a great treasure was lost.

Somewhere around the year 2000 the movie chain fell on hard times and began ridding themselves of theater properties.  The Westwood was one of them.  They had another theater right around the corner called The Holiday and didn't want anyone they sold it to to be able to open up competition, so they began gutting The Westwood.  The city attorney found out about it and filed a cease and desist order and the theater was saved.  It sat empty for a couple of years and the city coucil was trying to determine how to dispose of the property.  One idea that gained alot of ground was to raze the building and replace it with a parking lot.

In the city council meeting where the disposition of The Westwood Theater was being discussed the citizenry of Rexburg descended upon city hall and let the city council know that in no uncertain terms, we would have another city council in the next election cycle if they tore the building down.  The city fathers made a quality decision and decided it was in the best interest of all that the building be restored.  I wrote a note to one of the council members I knew that I would be willing to donate my time to paint the plaster inside the auditorium.

I was named to the committee to restore the theatre, and we voted to restore not only the theatre but also the name, and The Romance Theatre Committee was born.  Over the next several years we had many ups and downs with the citizens, the city council, inner strife within the committee, and a lack of committment among some of the members.  For a short time, the city disbanded the committee and took over management of the property.  The person they put in charge was disinterested and just about ran the thing into the ground.

About that time, the city attorney got involved.  He's just a year older than me and has many great memories of the theater as well.  He restored the committee and we were back in business.  There was alot of construction that needed to be done, many repairs to the building before we could paint, and finally this year we have been able to paint the decorative plaster.  It's been a long time, but finally it's here.  We painted the proscenium in the spring and summer, and I went in today to paint for a few hours.  The place is looking very good.

I insisted that we paint the plaster with casein paint and that we use gold and copper leaf in areas.  I also insisted that we paint the deep recesses of the plaster with ultramarine blue instead of black.  These were correct choices.  As I mentioned it is beginning to look like a theatre again.  Here are a few pictures I took today.


Detail of the painted plaster


All the interior doors looked like this once


The old houselight resistance dimmers on the linoleum floor


The old Peerless carbon arc projector


1930's vintage drinking fountain in the basement


Cracked plaster over brick in the basement


Window in the back wall


Unpainted plaster pilaster


Unpainted ceiling medallion

*Note:  You may think I misspelled the words theatre and theater.  That is not the case.  I used the word theater when I was referring to it as a movie theater, and I used the word theatre when I was referring to it as a live theatre.