My most treasured moments inside The Sanderson Centre have been the quiet ones. Sitting silently in the theatre, hours before a show, staring at The City’s Stage is beautiful thing. Especially when it’s your show. If you’ve never had this opportunity, you can actually feel the curtain going up in the pit of your stomach. You know that soon it will once again… be showtime.
Opening in 1919 as The Temple Theatre, becoming The Capitol in the 30’s and then The Sanderson in the 80’s… almost everyone has a memory of The City’s Stage. I grew up hearing stories from my Dad who worked as the assistant manager of the Capitol Theatre, while in high school in the early 60’s. His favorite story to tell was how in 1962 Lawrence of Arabia came to town. They would turn up the heat in the theatre a half hour before the intermission; screen-time that featured Peter O’Toole traipsing through the desert. He recalls that it was the only time where they actually filled up drinks and sold them row by row off a tray DURING the movie. They sold more drinks than there were people in the theatre every night during the film’s run.
When I asked around, people were all anxious to share their stories about The City’s Stage. Brian Elliott told me of how magicians would come in at Halloween and how his friend volunteered for the guillotine trick. The magician told his friend to grab the legs. He reached out and grabbed the legs of the "beautiful assistant." The magician said "not these legs, the guillotine legs!" Chris Smith told me stories of Saturday afternoon Elmer the Safety Elephant 25 cent films, where you’d get popcorn thrown in to boot. In 1952 Marty Bruines was 8 when he convinced his mother to let him go see King Kong. He said, “It scared the bejabbers out of me.”
In the late 90’s, I used to act in New Life Assembly’s annual Easter Musical. It was a wonderful time that saw the theatre filled for multiple, free-of-charge performances. But my favorite memory was during one intermission when Pastor Jeff Futers came out to take up an offering. It was very smooth and professional until, walking off-stage, he forgot to turn off his mic before exclaiming loudly, “Can I take up an offering or what!” to the uproarious laughter of the crowd.
In recent years, The Sanderson Centre has been the setting for many a Laurier University gathering. Sydney Nicholson, a 2nd year teaching student still remembers the feeling she got during Orientation Week saying, “I don't know what it was about the place. The energy that all of us first years let out just seemed to resonate throughout the building.” Former student Becca Vandekemp recalls her first introduction to The City’s Stage being the setting for her Basics of Psychology class every Tuesday night. “I associate the dancing ladies on the ceiling with the parts of the brain and concepts like positive reinforcement” she said with a laugh!
On April 9th, Freedom House is pleased to be co-presenting “Good Night and May God Bless - The Red Skelton Tribute” at The Sanderson Centre featuring the masterful work of Red Skelton’s protegee Tom Mullica... who was trained by the legendary Skelton himself.
The Sanderson Centre’s theatre manager Glenn Brown saw Red Skelton at the then Okeefe Centre with his now wife and both their parents in the late 90's, calling him ‘The ultimate clown.”
Skelton, while never playing the Temple Theatre stage during his vaudeville days, conceivably could have. Red Buttons, a contemporary, did. In fact Skelton once painted Red Buttons as a part of his massive collection of art. Skelton was, quite simply, a creative genius. It was said of him that he didn’t ever do one show a night. He’d do three. The rehearsal show, the dress rehearsal and the real show; since much of what he did simply flowed out of his brilliant mind.
In a 1967 associated press interview, 16 years into his very successful run of The Red Skelton Show, he described what his typical day entailed. He would sleep for 5 hours and get up at 5am to write. He’d compose with music, word and paint for 5 hours before having breakfast. Over the course of a day, he’d record 5 to 10 piano melodramas, routine outlines and pantomimes into a tape recorder. He’d write at least one short story outline a day and complete one full story a week. THEN he would do his daily television, radio and theatre work.
“I have a collection of clocks, none of them wound. I think more people waste time looking at clocks than anything. There’s plenty of time. The trick is to apply it.”Red Skelton
Mullica, whose ability to bring Red Skelton back to life will amaze you, has played on more stages that he can count during his career. He says “It really is a great feeling when I get to play at a former vaudeville theatre. Often when you find them across North America, they aren’t always in great shape. Kudos to those have done the hard work to revive this space. They are the true heroes.”
Glenn Brown agrees, “We've had vaudeville performers like Red Buttons, Imogene Coca and Mickey Rooney on our stage since the return to live entertainment. Listening to their reminiscing about that era and hearing what a beautiful place we have and how lucky we are to still have it is always humbling.”
Every city has a stage. But not every city has a stage quite as handsome as ours. Some performers were born for The City’s Stage. Red Skelton was one of those men. And while we’ll never again have the chance to see Red in person… seeing Tom Mullica embody Freddy the Freeloader, The Mean Widdle Kid and Clem Kadiddlehopper in a setting so loaded with memories will be a very special night indeed. A couple hours before the doors open, you’ll find me sitting silently in an empty theatre… soaking it in.
Get your tickets by clicking the link HERE, at the Sanderson Centre Box Office or by calling (519) 758-8090... or follow along with the Facebook Event HERE. Tweet