Just ran across this a few days ago and it brought back some fun and sweet memories. I have been helping this week at HLG with a little make up and what have you for their production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Oh, what fun it is to be back in a theatre dressing room again! And, what fun it is to see the next generation of HLG theatre students carrying on the legacy that was handed to us. And, they are probably doing it even better than we did! How encouraging. Anyway, you may have read this already. I wrote it back in 2003 (I think). I never deamed I would see or help with the students about whom I was writing! Hope you enjoy!!!
I stepped into the back of the theatre, my eyes wide with awe. The walls, floor, carpet, stage; everything oozed with character. It was the most marvelous place I had ever seen. I turned to my family and declared, “I want to get married here!” Well, that didn’t happen, but I had no idea that day what a huge part of my life the Orpheum Theatre at 5th and Broadway in Hannibal, Missouri would become.
I came to HLG as a wide-eyed freshman in the fall of 1997. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into when I signed up for a scholarship with Kimberly Weast, but it didn’t take long to find out.
I had only been there a week when I was introduced to my first Set Day. Set Days occurred every Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre from 8 a.m. until Weast decided it was time to go. After a brief tour, it was off to work. It was on that very first day I was introduced to the task that would become mine every Saturday for the next 3 years: cleaning the paintbrushes! That was also the day I learned one of the most important rules of working at the Orpheum: always turn on the faucet when you go to the bathroom. It’s better for all involved!
That Saturday was just the first of many Saturdays spent at the theatre. I cannot even begin to count the thousands of hours I must have spent there in my three years of HLG theatre. There were weeks at a time we wouldn’t leave until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. But it was always worth it when you saw the set finished and the curtain opened for the first time. All the hard work paid off when you saw the gleaming faces of little children enjoying their first ever theatre experience.
It was there at the Orpheum I made friends that will last a lifetime. The memories are too numerous to even be able to put on paper. I walk into the Orpheum and it all comes alive again: the paint fights, late hours trying to build a bigger than life-size jukebox, the terror of having to do my first kissing scene, the pride when you stepped back and looked at a finished set and knew you had helped to accomplish it, the joy of watching children’s faces light up as they cheered on the Nutcracker, watching the door just fall apart right in the middle of a show, and making friendships that have lasted even to this day. And it all came from a building with a leaking roof and parts of the wall falling off.
I’m so excited about all the Roland Fine Arts Center will offer Hannibal-LaGrange. I cannot wait to see the new level to which the Theatre Department will be able to rise. But I must admit there is a little part of me that will miss the old place. I still tear up at the mere mention of its name. It may have been old-fashioned and a bit out of date, but the memories I made and the lessons I learned there will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have no idea what the future holds for the Orpheum, but I know that it will live on forever in my memory. The end of an era has come and it’s time to say good-bye to that marvelous theatre that captured my heart the moment I walked through the door.
How? I must admit I don’t know. I watched it fill up for the final concert and it was almost disheartening. It was full of people who had no idea what a special place it was. It was full of people who were just longing for it to be gone so they could move on to something better. I took one final walk through the old place. I walked through the balcony and sat for a moment looking at the stage. I went through the “pit”, reliving all the wonderful memories of times spent there. It brought a tear to my eye to see that my handprint was still on the ceiling from my freshman year. Though it breaks my heart, I know it is time for the old to step aside and make way for the new.
The Lord has truly blessed HLG with the Roland Fine Arts Center and the Parker Theatre. New friendships will start and new memories will be made by countless numbers of HLG theatre students. There are paint fights to be had and enough unexpected moments for everyone. Though the view may be different, students will still be able to feel the anxiety of opening night and the joy of performing for hundreds of little children enjoying their first theatre experience. There have already been many students who have walked through the back door to the Parker Theatre, their eyes wide in awe at the most marvelous building they have ever seen. They cannot begin to imagine what a huge part of their lives that building will become. But one day, many years from now, that student will know how I feel as they stand there for the last time to say good-bye. There are no words to describe it. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t understand it. I will always cherish the old memories I have of the Orpheum, as I hope future students will cherish the new memories they will make in the Parker Theatre.