I generally try to keep myself and my personal experiences as far away from this blog as possible. After all, there are more enough self-obsessed Internet “writers” to go around, so why add my voice to the whiny chorus?
But grant me this moment of divulsion! In addition to curating this blog, I perform, and my current gig is taking me on a whirlwind tour of the American Northeast, Midwest, and Canada. The show in question is based on that classic children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and is produced by TheatreWorksUSA. (By the way, the opinions reflected herein do not represent those of TheatreWorksUSA or its employees. Gosh, that was fun, wasn’t it?)
The madcap pace of life on the road is an awesome hoot, and a major part of that fun is the sheer volume of new spaces to which we are exposed. A single week can contain several different theaters, all of varying history and style. For a theater nerd like me (and you, I presume? I mean, why else would you be here?) it’s a thrilling chocolate-box grab-bag of architectural treats and surprises.
Living in New York, one quickly becomes familiar with the major (and not-so-major) venues that speckle town. And, New York provincialism being what it is, the idea that those theaters constitute the entirety of the American theater inevitably infects even the most openminded theatergoer.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Turns out that unsung theaters gems dot our land’s Interstates, back roads, and small towns. And: I am here to tell you about them! With that, I hereby begin the oh-so-exciting “TheaTour!” series. (Exclamation points enliven even the dullest of topics. Right, Oliver!, Oklahoma!, and Snoopy!!!?)
Today’s entree is the spectacular Mishler Theatre, Altoona, PA’s glorious take on the classic, Broadway space of the early 20th Century. We of Mouse/Cookie were fortunate enough to open our show at this treasure, and boy did we enjoy it, from one sumptuousness wing to the other.
Some history: According to the Mishler employees nice enough to show me around, the theater was a holdout from the Vaudeville Circuit. But like many a 42nd Street space, legit performance eventually gave way to the grime and sleaze of movies, then X-rated fare. The theater was slated for demolition in 1965, but local arts groups purchased the space a spruced it up with an exquisite refurbishment.
Here are some shots of the theater’s current state. First, note the elegant draping of the orchestra pit and the ornate, cherub-y boxes. (Don’t even think about trying to sit there during a show—are all privately owned.)
The superior plasterwork is also worth checking out.
Backstage, a vintage hemp system runs the flies. Our tech supervisor assured us it’s a bitch to operate, but boy does it set this nerdy heart aflutter.
And then there’s the exterior: classic, classy, appropriate.
The Mishler crew assured us that the theater is most definitely haunted. Would that I, too, could wander such beautiful halls in the next life…