Sunday, February 11, 2007

Coming to Gropes with the Past

Live Wire is a not-too-distant descendant of vaudeville and is closely tied to several historic theaters. The beautiful old Hollywood Theater on Sandy was an early venue for the radio variety show and it’s easy to imagine the Hollywood's vaudeville days when you gaze up at that intricate old façade out front. The Aladdin Theater off Powell in SE is the current haunt of Live Wire and while its more notorious past is well known (Deep Throat is mentioned often) the Aladdin was also one of the Rose City’s vaudeville houses.

A less direct tie Live Wire has to another theater steeped in late vaudeville history is with the Rialto Theater in Deer Lodge, MT. That’s because in the early 80’s in the dark, sticky seats down front I copped my first feel. I’m sure more significant and historic events happened there since it opened in 1921, but the clumsy fumbling I achieved that night was sure a milestone for me.

My earliest movie-going experiences were at the Rialto and the same can be said for thousands of Deer Lodge natives. I remember cartoons before the movie and my folks recall the newsreels. When I was a kid you could still see live acts there too, and I remember magicians, hypnotists, concerts and the odd beauty pageant…and if you know the ladies of Deer Lodge you know what I mean by odd.

The Rialto was the cultural center of our little town and in recent years citizens rallied around it, raising money, maintaining, restoring, and improving the theater for generations to come. But tragically late last year it burned down. Compounding that tragic event was the subsequent (unrelated) death of one Jim Gilbert, this old-timer I knew in town who was instrumental in caring for the theater and bringing back a certain measure of its former glory. I can’t think of any other unfortunate event that has united the small town in shock and grief since…well…wars and such.

Maybe it’s because I make my living in theaters, but many of them, especially the old historic ones, seem like hallowed ground to me. There are in fact many churches in theaters and vice versa. I suppose there’s kind of a fine line between the two sometimes. Sure, that doesn’t stop pervy punks like I was from copping feels or sucking face down front, it just makes the worshipful element of the experience a bit more pagan. Understandably I’ve been able to appreciate these old theaters a little better lately. When we perform in the beautiful Aladdin I think of how lucky we are it still stands. Same goes for the Hollywood, Bagdad, Elsinore and other (relatively) ancient old temples of stagecraft and cinema…there’s nothing like them, and when they go, they’re gone. All we have left are memories. I was going to say history, but really, describing these places and our good old fashioned going-to-the-theater experiences is nothing compared to going to the theaters themselves. To flirt with the maudlin: now that it’s burned the people who really know the Rialto are numbered. We’re as finite as the decades of feel-copping, popcorn throwing, seat kicking, noise shushing, slack jawed wonder at the magic of movies and theater.

Now when I perform in the Aladdin or the Hollywood or attend any of the others, I look up a lot; at the chandeliers and ornate decor. I check out the dark and mysterious places backstage. I imagine all the famous and not so famous people who’ve graced the stage, had sex in the dressing rooms or shot up in the john. I try to soak it all up, to memorize it (except for those last things) because someday (maudlin again) it’ll all be gone, and memories like mine will go too, in time.

I’m thankful to be a part of Live Wire, a radio show that somehow brings people to the theater, in an age of cheesily apportioned multiplexes, cable movies on demand and Netflix.

(Incidentally, on the topic of theaters passing on, before the Rialto there was the Orpheum at 517 Main St. I don’t know how it met its demise, but the building still stands and is now the home of DL Auto Supply, my parents’ business. You can still see hints of ornate décor and even the old proscenium back by the storeroom where my dad keeps all the life-size cardboard stand-ups of chicks in bikinis wielding drills and hawking snap-on tools.)

And I’d like to thank that girl upon whom my feel was copped…a red head named Julie I think.

You can see pictures and stories about the Rialto and the fire at


el padre rico said...

There IS nothing like an old theater. Recently restored (still somewhat in process) is the Liberty Theatre in Astoria. Wonderful to visit should you go coastal. There are also remants of the old Amato's Supper Club inside a garage door in a building on the west side of 11th street on the last block before the river. I think auto parts are stored there now. I've always dreamed of restoring that place's TWO bandstands and having a swing dance club in there. Back in the day, one would bring their own booze bottle and check it at the door in exchange for a numbered card. Turn on the little light at your table and the wait staff would bring your drinks to the table with a charge for the mixer and the labor. Good times, good times.

patsypalooza said...


BYOBB and come join us in Astoria when we take the show on the road April 21st!! I'm sure you could show us a thing or two. And we might be persuaded to show you a thing or two in return. No, not those things! Father, what would the bishop think?!


whose yer padre said...

Between you and me, the bishop likes those things as much as I do. But you didn't hear it from me.
I should be back from the Great White North by that time and an Astoria sojourn might be very attractive. I could show you a thing or two.
Perhaps we can discuss.

Jonpaul said...

Great post Tyler. Great post.