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Old Theatres (By Jason Sawford)

(this is a blog I wrote late last year in the U.S. It has remained on file until today when I decided to add it to our blog section for the interest of our readers)

It is getting close to the end of our North American tour. Three more days in the U.S before we cross the border into Canada and play in Quebec. The weather here is still warm and although the last time we played here it snowed as we approached the Halloween season but this time there seems to be no end to the sunny weather as we head further north. Tonight we are in Albany, New York state, at the Palace Theatre; an old theatre that has not been updated backstage for many, many years. The dressing rooms are sparse and resemble prison cells and the stairs are numerous leading to several floors-the top floor having  series of empty dressing rooms that in evening are eerily quiet and unused.

These historical old theatres are often home to tales of being haunted and despite my more rational nature, I do delight in the thought that something could be haunting these old places. I was told by someone at the venue that the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City is haunted by an old woman who can sometimes be seen on the upper balconies.

I must admit I have never seen any ghosts in these places but I do confess to feeling spooked sometimes when I venture into the more unused parts of an old theatre and understand why tales such as 'Phantom of the Opera' have been based on them:

In the depths of the Orpheum theatre in Minneapolis the underground basement sprawls like a series of catacombs and there is an abundance of old theatre memorabilia. In the fabulous Fox theatre in Atlanta the walls are lined with old posters that go back to the 30s  and even earlier and in the Heinz Hall in  Pittsburgh-the dressing rooms are lined with old black and white photos of the early to mid twentieth century of performers and artists and people, their faces staring back at you, whispering from the past and I am struck by the thought that people really did dress in those old fashioned clothes in what was the height of fashion and there, snap shots of these people clings to the walls, capturing that one moment in time, frozen forever until somebody from the future comes to actually look at the photos and reanimates them in their imagination

The facilities at these places are often somewhat inadequate for a large touring production with one working toilet between 30 people it is often best to book a day room in a hotel-especially when the one toilet has a sign on it that says 'Do Not Pass Solids' like the one on the backstage Palace Theatre toilet when we played here in 2012. Fortunately, the facilities have been spruced up with a lick of paint and the sign removed, the toilet presumably working, inviting one to take a casual dump-but alas the urinals cannot be used-but not to worry; there's always the sink!

In Milwaukee, in the Riverside Theatre- the dressing rooms are spread over nine floors and the clunky old elevator-, a genuine working antique of an elevator takes what seems like an eternity to arrive to the stage , tempts one to take the stairs in the hope of getting to your destination sooner-but it's an exhausting journey and the catering is on the very top floor. To paraphrase ACDC; it's a long way to the top if you want a sausage roll. Our last old theatre on this run will be the Orpheum in Boston-again , a rather uncomfortable affair backstage with about two bathrooms between the lot of us and a mountain of stairs that will leave your knees aching for two days after. The theatre is right in the middle of the old historical district , opposite a fascinating old cemetery -the Granary Burial Ground which contains the grave of signatories to the Declaration Of Independence: John Hancock and Samuel Adams as well as the parents of Benjamin Franklin. I've played at the theatre several times, often in a grungy and unshowered state but it's central location does mean I can peruse a really interesting part of American history. If there was such a thing as ghosts I'm sure they would be found in that old part of the city.

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