One of the best things about my job is that I get to have a different perspective on shows at historic theatres – literally not figuratively. Standing backstage I get to see and hear things that the audience misses. But whether I am in the audience or back stage, historic theatres remain a magical place.
After a dance show, Diavolo – Foreign Bodies, at the Paramount in Austin, I got a few minutes alone with artistic director, Jacques Heim, who asked me if the Paramount audience was always so generous. “My dancers are feeding off the energy from your audience. It is like a fantastic feast!” And he was right. The dancers were energized by the audience. It’s not the first time an artist has told me that there is a special connection between the audience and stage at historic theatres. These places have a special energy even when they are empty… much less with a full audience.
A week later the exact opposite thing happened when Maya Angelou took the stage. I watched the entire talk from backstage and at the end of the show Dr. Angelou nearly collapsed from exhaustion. The audience had fed off her energy so completely that she gave herself over totally that night. When she signaled to the stage crew to allow for an encore her staff was speechless – evidently that is very rare.
As soon as the curtain closed for the final time, she collapsed into a waiting wheel chair. The energy had been drained from her. It is a show that still, today, gets comments from audience members who were there. For some, it was life changing.
Talking to her backstage before she left was a delight and remains one of my favorite memories. She had a light around her, an energy that was palpable.
I wish her all the best on her journey into the next life…
From this point forward, I will no longer be blogging about my antics at the Paramount Theatre, but I hope you will enjoy reading through my old posts. We had some good times. Moving forward, I will be blogging about my visits to America’s historic theatres as the Executive Director for the League of Historic American Theatres.
LEAGUE OF HISTORIC AMERICAN THEATRES
2105 LAUREL BUSH ROAD, SUITE 201 BEL AIR, MD 21015
+(Austin Office: 6404 ALASAN CV AUSTIN TX 78730)+
O: 443.640.1058 ext. 123 | Fax: 443.640.1031
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.lhat.org
The mission of the League of Historic American Theatres is to champion the preservation, restoration and operation of historic theatres.
On one of her many visits to the Paramount, Ann Richards asked me if she could go backstage to meet Bob Newhart. Well that would be up to Bob… Ann laughed at me and said, “Just tell him I am here, Ken.”
Bob, of course, wanted to see her. They spent about 30 minutes laughing and sharing stories before Ann left. The next – and last – time I saw Ann she was heading backstage to say hello to her friend David Sedaris. Ann was a subscriber, donor and a friend. I miss her.
I first met Ann Richards while I was in college. She gave the keynote speech at my graduation when she was the Texas Treasurer. I had no idea that our paths would cross again, but they did several more times. She was a donor to the Austin Children’s Museum where I worked when I first came to Austin. She was also very involved with Planned Parenthood where I worked before coming to the theater. Each time I saw her I would stupidly find a way to remind her (again and again) that she spoke at my graduation. She finally told me that I could stop telling her that because not only did she remember but “now you are old enough that it’s not really nice to remind me.”
This week Ann comes to the Paramount as a character created by Two and Half Men’s Holland Taylor. I can’ t wait to see her again.
If you have seen the movie Up then you know 78 year-old Carl Fredricksen who sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. The character, of course, is the voice and – surprisingly – the likeness of 81 year-old Ed Asner.
Mr. Asner was at the Paramount for his one-man theatrical performance as FDR. It and he were amazing. 95 minutes with no intermission is quite a feat for any age – 78, 81 or 12. But to do so while captivating an audience ranging from age 12 to 81 is something that could only be done well by a 7-time Emmy and 5-time Golden Globe winner.
After the show Mr. Asner stayed to greet a few major donors to the theater and when he spotted me in the crowd he said, “Hey kid. You’re the speech guy. You were cute. I was wondering how I was going to follow that act.”
So I am not quite sure if he thought I was cute (he flirted with all the ladies) or if he was referring to my speech…
Speaking of my speech. I promised I would elaborate on the Katharine Hepburn story.
In the fall of 1938 Katharine Hepburn’s friend, Phillip Barr, told her about a new play he was writing with her in mind. She agreed to forgo a salary in favor of a percentage of the box office and put up a quarter of the production budget herself. In 1938 that was something only a woman like Katharine Hepburn would attempt. The play, Philadelphia Story, opened in New Haven and eventually made it to Broadway in 1939 for a year-long run.
Shrewdly, Hepburn acquired the film rights to the play and sold them to MGM for $250,000 stipulating, of course, that she play the lead. The film was shot on a very tight 8 week schedule because Hepburn had also agreed to tour with the play. On January 7, 1941 the stage version of The Philadelphia Story starring Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin and Joseph Cotton played The Paramount Theatre before a packed house. About the same time, she starred in the movie which played next door at the State Theater. Now that is a feat…
A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, Gladys Knight began her illustrious career as the lead vocalist of Gladys Knight & The Pips, with whom she recorded such hits as “Every Beat of My Heart,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “If I Were Your Woman,” “Best Thing to Ever Happen to Me,” and the #1 smash “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
The Pips are not coming. But who cares. It’s Gladys Knight at the Paramount. What more could you want?
Before each show I get a quick report that gives a few details of the evening. It includes a brief description of the show. Here is the one for Gladys Knight at the Paramount on 2/19/2011:
One of the most instantly recognizable and loved voices in music. Featuring performances of the classic songs from her latest album, Before Me. Gladys has said, “I love anything that gets me to the people” — and the Paramount is getting her to you! Backed by one of the largest bands to grace our stage.
OK. How excited am I?
I have been looking forward to meeting Larry Miller and now I have to be out-of-town. Rats. Maybe you don’t recognize the name, but you’ll definitely know the face. He’s been in over 100 movies and TV shows including Pretty Woman and Seinfeld. Here’s a clip from an interview he did today on KVUE.
He plays the Paramount on Thursday. I know it will be great. Sad to miss…
Dear Friends of the Paramount and State Theatres,
It is with mixed emotions that I announce my intended future departure from the Austin Theatre Alliance due to a planned move to Dallas with my family in June of this year.
The opportunity to serve as Executive Director for the theatres has been an incredible one for me. I think it goes without saying how much I love this organization and the people involved. It was a very difficult decision.
I am very proud of what we have all accomplished together. I am particularly proud of the incredible staff and know that they are very capable of continued success moving forward. It is my sincere hope that my departure will not diminish what we have all accomplished or slow the current momentum of the organization. I hope rather that it might motivate all of us to remain committed to a mission that should always be greater than those involved.
As a Board Member of the League of Historic American Theatres, I am keenly aware of how precious the Paramount is for the city of Austin. So many other communities have long ago lost their treasured, historic theatre and with it a part of their cultural heritage. Over the years your commitment to save these historic landmarks has allowed them to remain vital pieces in the Austin arts scene.
Thanks to your generosity, we now serve over 200,000 patrons annually and bring arts education to nearly 20,000 local children. And while new skyscrapers downtown boast of being 30, 40 and even 50 stories high, the Paramount stands tall on Congress Avenue with thousands of stories of first dates, favorite shows and indelible memories. I know with your continued support, these historic venues will be here for Austin’s next generation and those beyond.
Thank you again for all that you have done to support me in this role and the theatres as a whole. I too leave with indelible memories.
Ken A. Stein, Executive Director
Paramount & State Theatres