‘The Uninvited’ Revisits Reconstruction Where It Took Place, but Didn’t Take Root – American Theatre

‘The Uninvited’ Revisits Reconstruction Where It Took Place, but Didn’t Take Root – American Theatre

It’s 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5, not even one week into this chaotic new decade, and I’m walking into Gallier House, the elegantly restored 19th-century residence-turned-museum at 1132 Royal Street in New Orleans’s French Quarter. I’m here to watch a rehearsal of The Uninvited, the latest work by the award-winning performance ensemble Goat in the Road Productions, led by 38-year-old co-artistic director Chris Kaminstein.

Kaminstein, a tall, lanky fellow with a full brown beard and an amiable smile, is nowhere to be seen, but several cast and crew members are passing through the gift shop that serves as the house’s entrance gallery, speaking mostly in whispers. A radio newscaster, though, is clearly audible: Things are neck and neck, he announces breathlessly, Saints 20, Vikings 20, and the game is going into overtime. Actor Ian Hoch is leaning stone-still against a cabinet wall, his head buried in his arms.

I’ve arrived at a tense moment, it’s clear—the NFC championship game, precursor to the Super Bowl, is in its climactic moments a mile or so away in the Superdome, giving this rehearsal a vivid subtext. Moments later, the standoff is over. There are some anguished shouts from the adjacent courtyard. Hoch finally moves, sliding down the wall to slump into a chair, expressionless.

The Saints have lost.

It’s an unexpected blow to a city that loves its sports teams as much as it does its own meandering, checkered history, which predates the country’s founding by nearly a century. In The Uninvited, a significant but distressingly obscure slice of that history—the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, roughly 1867-77—is under rigorous theatrical examination. The piece is the second in a planned four-part series of site-specific, immersive, original dramas about racial justice—or, more accurately, the lack thereof—in the decade after the abolition of slavery.

The first production in the series, last season’s much-lauded The Stranger Disease, channeled spectators through the halls and stairwells of another room-where-it-happened locale, a 232-year-old French Colonial house museum known as Madame John’s Legacy, situated two-and-a-half blocks from Gallier House, on Dumaine Street. With its rending and funny exploration of interracial love amid the deadly yellow fever epidemic of the 1870s, The Stranger Disease packed Madame John’s with rapt spectators and went on to sweep last year’s Big Easy Theatre Awards, winning accolades for best play, best director, best ensemble, and best original work—the equivalent, maybe, of a shutout on the football field. Is a repeat of that success in the offing?

Kaminstein shows up a few minutes later in the gift shop—which, I’ve learned in the interim, doubled as the entryway to a soda-and-mineral-water-bottling factory back in the middle of the 19th century, when prominent architect James Gallier Jr. and his family moved onto the property—to squire me through a walled courtyard into the grand old house’s ornate, wool-carpeted double parlor, where a second run-through of the show is beginning. Any residual agitation among the cast about the Saints’ Super Bowl disqualification has evaporated, and like the curious audiences who will patronize The Uninvited when it opens next week, I take on the role of an attentive fly upon the wall, free to buzz wherever I like through the multi-story house, absorbing its plush, antique atmosphere as I follow the interactions of nine characters. Some, like Gallier’s feisty widow Aglae (played by company co-artistic director Shannon Flaherty) and her teenage daughters (Darci Jens Fulcher and Grace Kennedy), are based on real-life figures; others, like Aglae’s savvy, rebellious cook Charity (April Louise), have been imagined by the writers. The action occurs over the course of a single momentous afternoon in December 1874.

On the historic day in question, some six years after Gallier’s death left Aglae sole mistress of the property, a virtual riot broke out along Royal Street when a cadre of young men from the anti-integration Crescent City White League attempted to forcibly segregate a girls’ school at the LaLaurie Mansion, two doors down from the Gallier home. The battle spilled into the household in the person of a Mr. Jarvis (played in the aforementioned Hoch, whose bio boasts 60-plus local performances), friend of the family and, alas, an investigating officer from the League. None of the nine souls in Gallier House, white or black, young or old, would finish the day unscathed.

April Louise, Khiry Armstead, and Denise Frazier in “The Stranger Disease,” performed by Goat in the Road at Madame John’s Legacy. (Photo by Josh Brasted)

“I’ve become an amateur historian on the time period of these projects,” Kaminstein tells me a few days later in a post-opening double interview with his co-director and main writing partner, Kiyoko McCrae, a theatre- and filmmaker who served in recent years as managing director of Junebug Productions, the New Orleans-based company widely praised for its focus on and support of African American culture in the Black South. As lead writers, Kaminstein and McCrae share team credits for The Uninvited’s spare, intensely naturalistic text with cast members Shannon Flaherty and Denise Frazier, as well as Owen Ever, curator of another purveyor of select 19th-century history, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.

“Everything we’re talking about in The Uninvited feels like it could have been ripped from today’s headlines,” Kaminstein avows at the conversation’s outset, eliciting a nod of concurrence from McCrae. “Reconstruction was the critical moment when we had the opportunity as a nation to actually deal with racism—then we lost it to Jim Crow. We’re still, in a way, trying to get back that promise that Reconstruction made to us—that’s our company’s big push right now.”

“The issues we’re dealing with are spot-on in the Trump era,” McCrae agrees, doubling down on her collaborator’s point about the correspondences between those troubled days and the way we live now. “It was in those early Reconstruction years that you first heard the ‘Make America Great Again’ theme—there was a backlash against any progress for minorities, there was the growth of the White League then, and the Ku Klux Klan now—so many parallels!”

The company noticed when they were working on last season’s The Stranger Disease, and again on The Uninvited, that they were, as McCrae puts it, “dealing with a time period that has been misrepresented and misinterpreted, including by historians, the media, our educational systems, and so on. Underlying the myth about Reconstruction was the belief that its failure was because of the people of color who were in leadership roles—which is ultimately just not true.”

Did Kaminstein, McCrae, and company have multiple iterations of these site-specific works in mind when they tackled The Stranger Disease? Was a quadrilogy about Reconstruction the idea from the start?

“The short answer is no—that concept came after the success of Stranger Disease, when we realized how hungry people were for this kind of work,” concedes Kaminstein, a New Orleanian by choice who was part of the influx of artists and empaths after Hurricane Katrina (and who, coincidentally, appeared on American Theatre’s cover in 2010 when he appeared in Goat in the Road’s debut show, Our Man). “I had read Eric Foner’s book A Short History of Reconstruction two summers ago, and even then it felt like a page-turner—everything on every page felt relevant to today,” he continues. “What sealed the deal was the realization that we had a wealth of material, any number of stories to tell, through which we could draw theatrical parallels between those times and the times we’re living through now.”

But accurate and detailed information about the period wasn’t so easy to come by, it turned out. “So much of the history of people of color in these places has been erased by time and white supremacy,” Kaminstein observes. The popular historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., he notes, wrote in Stony the Road, his short book about Reconstruction, that the media of the day reshaped the narrative by immediately reframing racist events as “brave white people standing up for liberty.” A number of books were published at the time from the white supremacist perspective. “There’s a sense of being exempt as a white person—you had no complicity. And, of course, the voices of emancipated people of color are almost completely absent—usually all we have are lists of their names.”

This absence placed a special responsibility on the shoulders of cast members playing house servants and former slaves. “Our ensemble members of color have taken on the job of imagining characters who might have actually populated this history, based on historical facts,” Kaminstein says.

Brian Egland, who plays Moses, a down-on-his-luck Black journalist who stops by Gallier House to court Rose (Tenaj L. Jackson), a schoolteacher in trouble, said he took that challenge to heart. “Searching the literature of the time for knowledge about Black people turns up very little—it leaves you mainly with questions: Just who was a free man of color during this time? How do I bring him to life?”

Jessica Lozano, Ian Hoch, and Khiry Armstead in “The Stranger Disease,” performed by Goat in the Road Productions at Madame John’s Legacy. (Photo by Josh Brasted)

With information in short supply, how did precipitating incident of The Uninvited come to Goat in the Road’s attention? Another noted historian, Lawrence N. Powell, author of a comprehensive early history of New Orleans called The Accidental City, caught wind of the company’s Stranger Disease project and paid them a visit.

“Powell came to one of our rehearsals and brought with him a Harper’s magazine article about the White League’s campaign against integrated schools in 1874,” says Kaminstein. “Luckily, Harper’s carried an account of this particular ‘action,’ as did a Black-run newspaper called the New Orleans Tribune.”

Not that there weren’t a few dots to connect. “The violence in the Quarter happened just a few months after the Battle of Liberty Place,” Kaminstein adds, referring to a game-changing insurrection (also known as the Battle of Canal Street) by the White League, which viewed the State of Louisiana’s official efforts to bring greater equality and opportunity for Blacks as treason. A paramilitary force of 5,000 League sympathizers, made up largely of Confederate veterans, fought police and state militia for three days in September ’74 as they held the statehouse (New Orleans was the capital at the time) and the city’s downtown hostage. They finally retreated when federal troops arrived to restore control by the elected government—but the incident proved a death knell to racially progressive policies in the state.

“The clash at the girls school later that year was a harbinger of darker things to come,” Kaminstein says. On the larger American canvas, he speculates, “The appetite for actual justice lasted maybe 18 months after the Civil War was over.”

Where does the company’s Reconstruction project go from here? The third episode in the series, which Kaminstein expects will go up in March of 2021, will likely occupy another iconic French Quarter tourist site, the 194-year-old Beauregard-Keyes House on Chartres Street, named for its two most famous residents: Confederate general Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, and American author Frances Parkinson Keyes, who stumbled onto the Victorian-style house in 1945 and spent the next 25 years restoring it and writing novels there. (Assertions that Beauregard-Keyes is haunted are irrelevant to the undertaking, Kaminstein says with a shrug.)

As Goat in the Road is already in league with the Hermann-Grima House—owned and operated by the Woman’s Exchange of New Orleans, a cultural preservation group that dates back to 1881—the series’ fourth production is likely to unfold on St. Louis Street at the Federalist-style Hermann-Grima House, built nearly 200 years ago for a prosperous Creole family. There are ample possibilities for site-specific storytelling beyond the Quarter as well, Kaminstein notes, in a city that depends in no small measure on the preservation, examination, and (frankly speaking) exploitation of its history for its contemporary well-being.

“Each piece will be totally different, based on the history of the institution involved and on the talents of our various collaborators,” Kaminstein reiterates. “They’re tied together by our focus on the history of Reconstruction, and our determination to find ways to reimagine that history truthfully—not rewrite it or correct it, but to restore some invaluable parts of what has been lost.

“Imagine,” he adds with sidewise look, “how we might at some point in the future make a full festival of all these works, and run them simultaneously in the city where these turning points of history took place.” Imagine.

Jim O’Quinn, the founding editor of this magazine, now lives in New Orleans.

CREATIVE CREDITS FOR PHOTOS: The Uninvited, created by Owen Ever, Shannon Flaherty, Denise Frazier, Chris Kaminstein, Kiyoko McCrae, and the ensemble; lights by Joshua Courtney; costumes by Kaci Thomassie; sets by Owen Ever. The Stranger Disease, created by Owen Ever, Shannon Flaherty, Chris Kaminstein, Kiyoko McCrae, and the ensemble; lights by Joshua Courtney, costumes by Hope Bennett, sets by Owen Ever.


Top 10 Antelope stories of the decade – Unkantelope

Top 10 Antelope stories of the decade – Unkantelope

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The 2010s are now over and the world has moved into another decade. For many of us, the 2010s were a time that we grew and blossomed into the people we are today. UGGs, athleisure, and fluidity have markedly shaped our fashion choices while Flappy Bird, Silly Bandz, and the Cinnamon Challenge kept us entertained. There was also some unique events that kept us on our toes like the End of the World (volumes one and two…) and Kony 2012. 

Even the news reminds us of some of the biggest events during this past decade. Each description includes a publication date for those interested in reading the original story on the web addition of The Antelope at unkantelope.com.

Planetary Advancement – Jan 27, 2010

Beginning the decade off, 2010 marked the opening of UNK’s planetarium. Now a staple on campus in the Bruner Hall of Science, the planetarium is just barely ten years old. Dubbed the “most modern planetarium between Chicago and Phoenix”, the planetarium features a state-of-the-art projector with 7,000 individually projected stars and a movie theater surround sound system. If you have yet to go inside, you can view the upcoming shows here: http://www.unk.edu/academics/physics/unk-planetarium/

Three-Dimensional? – Jan 27, 2010

Another piece of technology that was groundbreaking in 2010 were 3-D movies. At the time, Kearney did not have a theater that was even capable of showing a 3-D movie and moviegoers had to travel the 45-mile trek to Grand Island. Personally, I am not a fan of 3-D movies – the whole glasses over glasses just doesn’t really work out – but Kearney Cinema 8 was missing out on the big business back then. 

New Caf – Aug. 24, 2011

Jumping forward to the beginning of the 2011 school year, UNK students were greeted with a newly remodeled cafeteria called The Market at 27th Street. $3.2 million were poured into the university’s dining service that brought in a salad bar, a pizza oven, and the highly popular Mongolian Grill. Recently, The Market got another revamp with Sodexo taking over as the food provider last semester. 

Tremors Reach Kearney – March 16 and March 30, 2011

On March 11, a massive earthquake of roughly 8.9-9.1 earthquake struck 70 kilometers off the coast of Japan. The earthquake, occurring in the Pacific Ocean, was the most powerful to ever hit Japan and hurled tsunami waves as tall as 33 feet just minutes later. By March 30, the death toll was already at 10,000. The tsunami damaged other Pacific coastlines including those in the United States, though much less severely. At the time, UNK had 115 registered students from Japan; 16 students returned to the country on a leave of absence to be with their families. Various campus groups rushed to these students’ support and set up fundraising efforts for relief aid. Like with other disasters, the Kearney community rallied together and helped the Japanese Association at Kearney (JAK) raise over $5,000. 

Gone But Not Forgotten – Sept. 19, 2012

At the age of 103, Carol Cope passed away. Carol and her husband Ron were Kearney’s most generous philanthropists and community leaders. The couple gave an estimated $15 to $20 million plus a suspected millions more in private donations back to the Kearney community. This is evident by namesake locations in Kearney such as the Cope Fountain and Ron and Carol Cope Stadium on campus plus the Ron and Carol Cope Heart Center at Good Samaritan Hospital. In 1991, Cope reflected on her volunteer service in World War II, “I think part of everyone’s life is to invest in something other than themselves.” This is a lesson we can all learn from, even if we don’t have the wealth the Cope’s had to share. 

Former Glory – April 10, 2013

The World Theatre has been a historical theater in downtown Kearney for many years. In 2013, The World was remodeled to bring back its former glory with new red curtains and new seating on the ground level. The World had cheap concessions and admission of only $5 but remains one of Kearney’s least utilized experiences. The World has became famous for showing “oldies, but goodies”. Moreover, the World is going through another phase of renovation with the “Balcony or Bust” campaign in which the theater is raising money to restore the balcony section of the movie theater. 

Yik Yak Fearmongering – Oct. 1, 2014

The latest trend in social media came in 2014 with the rise of Yik Yak, a mobile application that allowed users to communicate with their communities anonymously. However, across the country, events turned dark. In Kearney, the Calvin T. Library was evacuated after Matthew Skinner from Ogallala made bomb threats on the app. Other universities such as the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the University of Alabama and the University of Southern Mississippi and Norwich University were all a part of a growing list of threats made through the app. 

Budget Slashed – Feb. 21, 2018

Opening to a crowd of students and faculty, Chancellor Kristensen said “Today is a difficult day.” The month prior, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a $173 million projected budget shortfall. Unfortunately, our state’s education system took a hit as a result. UNK alone faced 

3.67 million decline in state funds. Kristensen planned to face this deficit, in part, by eliminating 16 faculty positions, men’s tennis, men’s golf and baseball teams, among other “strategic cuts”. In an age of rising tuition and increased cost of living in Kearney, students and faculty did not meet these decisions with peace. 

Winter Weather – Feb. 27 and March 7, 2019

Every year as Nebraskans, we prepare for long months of cold, wintry weather, days filled with ice and snow. However, even the hardiest of us often resent going out on winter days, especially for walking to class. Feb. 20 brought on an onslaught of winter weather. But unlike many schools across the state, UNK chose not to close school despite the harsh conditions. Students took to social media to express the frustrations of the larger UNK community. The Antelope also interviewed students and administration. While students faced car accidents, slips on uncleared sidewalks and potential frostbite, administration argued that “our number one priority is to be open,” said Jon Watts, UNK’s Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance. Students fought back and claimed that the university’s number one priority should be the safety of the students, faculty and staff. Because of this backlash, UNK has been more considerate on granted closures due to weather. 

Kearney Underwater – Sept. 16, 2019

While some students were still away for summer break, many students still live and work in kearney. On July 9, following in a disastrous trend much of our state had been experiencing since March, the City of Kearney flooded along the Kearney Canal south of 11th Street. With the average rainfall amounts at six to eight inches, with other areas pushing ten inches, there was little time to react for many residents and visitors in the flood zones as the water was normal one moment and climbed into flood range in a matter of an hour. Quick action by the city resulted in no injuries or casualties and the community stepped up to provide assistance. UNK helped a total of 336 people displaced by the flood and served as an emergency shelter. 

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King’s Head Theatre directors talk 50th birthday celebrations and moving to a new home – Evening Standard

King’s Head Theatre directors talk 50th birthday celebrations and moving to a new home – Evening Standard

I’m standing on the roof of the King’s Head theatre — a ramshackle former boxing ring behind a vintage Islington boozer — with its artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher, looking at the future.  

London’s oldest pub theatre has hosted early performances from Hugh Grant, Joanna Lumley, Simon Russell Beale and Meera Syal. It staged premieres by Tom Stoppard and Steven Berkoff, gave Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues their first London outing and helped to restore the reputations of Terence Rattigan and Vivian Ellis. And if all goes to plan with a major fundraising effort this year, the venue will celebrate its 50th birthday in December in a £9 million, two-auditorium space built in the basement of the Edwardian Royal Mail sorting office I’m admiring, yards behind the current theatre.

“The King’s Head isn’t bricks and mortar,” says Spreadbury-Maher, 38, when I sit down with him and executive director Fiona English, 31, inside the pub. “It is that idea of trying something that hasn’t been tried before, giving a voice to someone who normally wouldn’t have one, looking back at something that may have been overlooked or forgotten.”

The theatre will continue the triple-pronged policy, evolved during Spreadbury-Maher’s 10-year tenure, of staging accessible opera in English translation, “LGBTQ-slash-Queer programming” and revivals of neglected post-war plays like Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carré and Sean Mathias’s A Prayer for Wings. There will still be a blend of in-house and externally produced work for which staff and performers will all, unusually for a fringe venue, get paid. It will continue to tour and transfer plays, and to act as a forcing ground for talent: Donmar boss Michael Longhurst, auteur Katie Mitchell and producer Kenny Wax also started out here, alongside countless technicians and actors.

But instead of the current 113-seat space there will now be an 85-seat studio, broadly for more experimental and radical work, including “unheard lesbian and trans voices”, and a larger, 250-seat auditorium. It’ll be the sort of room beloved by independent producers wanting to try things out, and it will enable Spreadbury-Maher to bring back past hits that have grown in scale — like the King’s Head productions of Trainspotting and Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean — and to stage musicals.

The new home will be substantially more comfortable than the old. Asked by a waitress if he wanted anything during an interval back in the Eighties, the actor Murray Melvin reportedly replied: “An osteopath.” As well as nicer seats, English says, you will no longer “have to use your programme to protect yourself from leaks, and the dressing rooms won’t flood backstage. We don’t actually have an external wall at the back at the moment, just a layer of insulation.”

Although the new building will be more salubrious, English insists the King’s Head won’t lose its rough edges. At £9 million, it’s cheap for a new theatre and at first it will be kitted out with “cardboard boxes and plywood”. Though Spreadbury-Maher is right that a theatre is more than its bricks and mortar, location, history and atmosphere still matter. The new home is part of, and partly funded by, the Islington Square development of the vast former north London sorting office, which had been shut up for over 20 years. This enables them to stay close to their roots and their local audience “without it costing £100 million”. 

You can actually touch the cellar wall of the pub from the bar and foyer of the new venue. Spreadbury-Maher notes that the sorting office “was, from Edwardian times and through two world wars, the nervous system of the British Empire’s communications”. English adds: “It looked after storytelling for London for so many decades, and now we are giving that back.”

Then there’s the legacy. In 1970 Dan Crawford, an Anglophile barman from the US city of Hackensack, New Jersey, scraped together the money to buy the pub’s lease and turned the back room into a performance space modelled on American dinner theatre. The first production was Boris Vian’s The Empire Builders, the first hit an adaptation of John Fowles’s novel The Collector.

The King’s Head was for a time the recipient of a small Arts Council grant, but mostly Crawford kept it afloat through drink sales (always listed in pounds, shillings and pence), the ghastly food he urged on punters in the theatre, and goodwill. Although he transferred several plays to the West End and Broadway, he never seemed to make any money from them.

A lanky figure with jutting eyebrows and a threadbare tweed jacket, Crawford would personally introduce shows on opening night and rattle a bucket by the door at the end. He was already in talks to move the theatre into Islington Square when he died of cancer in 2005, aged 62. His fourth wife and co-producer Stephanie kept going for five years but couldn’t profit from drink sales once Young’s took over the pub licence. Spreadbury-Maher took over in 2010. Originally an opera singer in Australia, he retrained as a director at Central drama school in 2005 and opened the Cock Tavern Theatre in 2008.

Nurturing talent: the Islington theatre is in a former boxing ring behind the pub (Lucy Young)

Was Crawford’s legacy — the success and the maverick eccentricity — a burden when he first took on the King’s Head? “Well, I made it an opera house for the first four years, so I wasn’t on his tails at all,” replies Spreadbury-Maher. Like Crawford, he’s an Anglophile and an enthusiast, who drinks tea from a Wedgwood teapot and has a thing about historic post boxes (“so it’s lovely we’re moving into a post office”).

He negotiated a then-pioneering payment agreement with Equity in 2012, and he and English — who joined him in 2017 partly to co-ordinate and fundraise for the move — enforce a raft of policies relating to diversity, sustainability and anti-bullying. They think moving to a scary new space is exactly what Crawford would have done and hope to name the studio after him.

They’ve got £2.3 million to find and have applied for a grant from the Mayor’s office. But there’s also a big fundraising gala at Porchester Hall on February 9 where Mark Gatiss, playwright Martin Sherman and other famous supporters will be in attendance. A book on the theatre’s history will be published in December. 

Oh, and this year Spreadbury-Maher and English will run 50 marathons between them to raise £50,000. “Running 25 marathons in a year sounds like a stupid idea, and I say that as someone who loves running,” says English. “But Adam came up with it as a challenge and it is very hard to say no to him.” The move’s surely as good as done.



Belfast’s Grand Opera House closes as renovation begins – BBC News

Belfast’s Grand Opera House closes as renovation begins – BBC News

Scaffold and building material inside the Grand Opera House auditoriumImage copyright Press Eye
Image caption The £12.2m lottery-funded project will take 10 months to complete

Work has begun to restore the historic Grand Opera House in Belfast in time for the theatre’s 125th anniversary in December.

The £12.2m lottery-funded project will take 10 months to complete.

It has been 40 years since the last renovation work was carried out on the unique auditorium.

The decorative Victorian paint and plasterwork will be repaired and accessibility will be improved.

The theatre’s ageing technical infrastructure will be updated with state-of-the art sound and lighting systems and the seating, carpets, curtains and drapes will be replaced.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Seating, carpets, curtains and drapes will be replaced

John Tracey, director at Tracey Brothers Ltd who are completing the renovation work, said it was a privilege to work on such a prestigious heritage project.

‘Rich and spectacular’

“It’s rare to have the opportunity to restore a venue with a history and an auditorium as rich and spectacular as the Grand Opera House.”

The building was designed by the leading Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham, also responsible for designing the London Palladium and Hackney Empire.

The curtain rose on the first performance in 1895.

Image copyright Grand Opera House
Image caption A Grand Opera House audience in 1916

It has since played host to some of the world’s biggest names in entertainment, including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Sarah Bernhardt and Laurence Olivier.

In 1963, a little-known Italian singer named Luciano Pavarotti made his UK debut on the stage of the Grand Opera House in a performance of Madame Butterfly.

Image copyright Chris Heaney
Image caption The Grand Opera House’s decorative elephants will be restored to their Victorian glory

The refurbishment will include a permanent exhibition detailing the theatre’s history and the many performers who have entertained Belfast audiences since 1895.

A new bar will be installed in the repaired and restored glass extension overhanging Great Victoria Street.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Renovation begins at Belfast’s historic Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House’s curtain will rise again in December, with Goldilocks the pantomime.


Smiles keep coming at the OKLA | Local News – Mcalester News Capital

Smiles keep coming at the OKLA | Local News – Mcalester News Capital

Simply stepping inside the OKLA Theatre still makes people smile.

An open house in Downtown McAlester held from 3-6 p.m. Monday brought a continuous stream of visitors into the OKLA, the former cinema theater that is now closed.

Virtually all eras during the theater’s long run were represented during the open house, from the time the OKLA was built in the early 1930s until it closed as a movie house in the late 1980s. Even after movies were no longer shown at The OKLA, it endured for a while longer as the site of plays, Christmas shows and haunted houses conducted by members  of the Kiamichi Actors Studio. 

Members of the Ardeneum of Oklahoma hosted the open house a day prior to the McAlester City Council’s consideration Tuesday night of the Ardeneum’s offer to give the city ownership of the OKLA for $1.

In return, the city would be required to restore the OKLA and use it for the people of McAlester.

Many of those attending the open house hoped the city accepted the offer. 

James Jarigin has some special memories of the OKLA. Not only did he watch movies at the theater, he worked there as well.

“I used to work here in 1964 in the concession stand,” he said. “I worked there a couple of years and then worked in the projection booth.

“I got to see all the movies and it didn’t cost me anything,” said Jarigin.

Saturday movies started in the morning.

“We’d start shows about 10:45 on Saturday and show it continuously,” he said. The OKLA had 50 cents admission on Saturdays at that time, said Jarigin. Some parents would bring their kids off and leave them at the OKLA all day, he recalled.

“We were the cheapest babysitter in town,” Jarigin said.

Bess Cotton found an iconic T-shirt for her visit to the OKLA — a commemorative T-shirt of the Kiamichi Actors Studio, or KAST community theater performance of the play “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which she showed to McAlester Tourism Coordinator Eddie Gray.

Ann Owens spoke with enthusiasm of her favorite movie to play at the OKLA — the Robert Preston-Shirley Jones version of “The Music Man.”

“I watched it twice,” she said, recalling how she phoned her mom so she could watch the entire movie again.

Owens said she sometimes goes to the McSwain Theatre, a restored movie  theater in Ada. “Every time I go there, I think ‘I hope they do this in McAlester,’” she said.

Sue Conn Ernst, who is Owens’ cousin, now lives in Wichita Falls, Texas. She was in McAlester on Monday and couldn’t resist stopping the OKLA again, where she talked with Owens and Mozelle Proctor about the theater.

“I grew up here,” Ernst said. She recalled how her mom would drop her off to watch the movies.

“There should be a black pay phone here,” she said, pointing to a place on the wall where a phone used to be that children would use to phone their parents when the movie was over.

 She said the Wichita Theatre in Wichita Falls is a vintage theater that’s been restored.

“It’s the best thing they ever did for our community,” she said. “That’s helped a lot.”

Amie Whorton recalls going to the OKLA when she was a kid to seethe movie “Annie.”

“I went to the balcony,” she said. “I miss it.”

Shirley Donaldson spoke about how other theaters have been refurbished. “They redid this one in Lamar, Missouri,” said, referring to the Plaza theater. She hoped something similar could be done to the OKLA.

Alyssa Latty, of McAlester Main Street, noted the good turnout for the event. She recalled going to talent shows put on by Curtis Baker.

“I would sing ‘My Heart Will go On’ from ‘Titanic,’’’ Latty said, recalling how Baker would get limos to drop the performers off at the front.

“It was a good time,” she said.

Gail Aragon said “I used to be with the community theater.” She said there were times when the group looked for a place to stage its plays. It would be nice to have the OKLA available, she said.

Nearby, Rodney Briggs placed popcorn in bags with the OKLA logo printed on it. Dr. Bert Thomas, president of the Ardeneum of Oklahoma, pointed out some of the improvements.

Nina Fereday Barthel brought her granddaughters to the open house so they could see where she used to go to the movies. She said her mother was a school teacher who sometimes had to attend meetings when school was not in session.

“I’d come down here and she would go to the meeting,” Barthel said.

Jack Southard recalled how he would find his seat. “I remember how they had ushers that would seat you,” he said.

Pat Tucker and Diane Lee also recalled watching movies at the OKLA.

“This should be a historical landmark in McAlester,” Lee said. “It is a wonderful place, We want the city to buy it,” 

Jean Boyd remembered the big concession area that extended to the middle of the lobby.

Bob Miller remembered coming to town as a child with his family in a horse-drawn wagon and going to the OKLA.

“It cost a quarter,” he said.

John Bray stopped by with his wife, Mary. He said he used to go to the OKLA in the 1970s. He said Mary Sullivan, who later became his wife, would sit behind him and his friends and eat pickles — and they couldn’t figure out the source of the aroma. He too had a favorite movie.

“My favorite was Don Knotts and ‘The Apple-Dumpling Gang,’” he said.

Glena Raleigh Baggs, a former McAlester High School coach, stopped by to shoot some photos and reminisce.

While local historian Tom Crowl snapped some photos of hos own, David Jones remembers seeing movies starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, such as “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Sand Pebbles.”

Josh Mabray was too young to attend the  OKLA during its heyday, but he checked out the theater during the open house.

“I like the brickwork behind the stage,” Mabray said. He already knows what he would like to see at the theater.

“I’d like for them to get some bands,” he said. With McAlester between Dallas and Kansas City, he figured that groups could work a McAlester appearance into their tour schedules.

McAlester Tourism Director Billy Sumner felt pleased with the turnout at the open house.

“I was very happy to see the people who came to see it,” he said. “It’s great to hear the old stories.”

Sumner was among those hoping Monday that more generations will have an opportunity to experience what will one day be their stories about the OKLA Theatre.

“It’s well worth the investment in the community,” he said.

Contact James Beaty at [email protected]


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