The end of Stage Center, originally known as Mummer’s Theater, is finally upon us. I broke the story today that demolition may begin as early as Monday. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to get a glimpse of what this means to someone on a personal level – a look at not just the building, not just the architecture, not just the history, but the place. I got exactly what I was looking for, and it’s from a promising young woman who has become increasingly involved our downtown community. This is her story:
My mom stops the car at the roundabout in front of the doors, and I hesitate to walk in. “You’ll be friends with people in no time!” Although they’re reassuring words, this is my first time to go to a summer camp and not know anyone. Usually during the summer, I would stay at home and play soccer and kickball or ride bikes with the other kids in the neighborhood. At this point, I don’t remember how I found out about ArtWorks, but I convinced my parents it was a good idea to let me go. An art day-camp that revolved around visual arts, dance, music and theater? It was an easy way to get me out the door while they were at work and my sisters played with the kids in the neighborhood instead.
As I clutch my little brown bag, I get my name tag from the camp teachers. “This must be your first time!” I guess I wasn’t good at hiding my facial expressions back then either. “Do you want to go straight downstairs, or do you want a tour?”
I was about to get my first glimpse of the Stage Center.
We walked past the box office and into the circle lobby. If you looked out another set of glass doors, you see the wooden deck that would be our lunch area, and just past that were the bricks where we played dodgeball or capture the flag at recess. If you look to the left and right, you see ramps that go up into the theater lobbies. We walked up a ramp to the lobby with photos lining the walls of old casts from shows that have been in this theater. Since I was a Theatre Major at the ripe age of 12, my first show would be right there in the Tolbert Theatre. After we entered the theater, we felt along the concrete walls to flip the house lights on.
“You’ll be down there on that stage in just about three weeks!”
What we didn’t know was that I would be on that stage for seven more years. The Tolbert Theatre became another home for me during the summer. Even though I transitioned from being a student to a counselor-in-training, or CIT, I never stopped learning about the theater and the arts. Instead of learning new techniques, I was able to teach students alongside the teachers. During our downtime, I grabbed other CITs and we explored Stage Center together. When the camp was ending, I always brought a bottle or two of sparkling cider, gather the CITs and sat on the balcony to celebrate the last day of summer together. After we were done, we went down the same hallway I went through when I first arrived as a camper and then downstairs to the basement to prep for our show.
I still remember the green lights shining up from the floor and on the stairs behind the stage. I still remember catching kids running as they were going from vom to vom for costume changes. “Put the curtain back! Your parents will see you too early in the show!” probably wasn’t the best thing to tell the kids because that was their excuse to wave at their parents. I still remember crouching in my costume with my little hyenas for our last scene together in “Horton Hears a Who!” and giving them a hug for good luck. I still remember us stealing the show with our cackles and laughs as we rolled on the floor. I still remember that last curtain call in the Tolbert Theatre.
From being a horrified little kid to driving myself to Stage Center every day, I never truly realized the impact the building itself would have on me. A lot of memories were forged there along with friendships I have maintained since I was so young. Little did I know that’s where all of our art work would be displayed on the walls and scattered across tables. Little did I know there would be 20 kids in each dance studio downstairs preparing for three weeks for their show. Little did I know we would try on costumes from years past while other students made brand new ones for the plays we wrote together. Little did I know we would learn new songs every day and hum them down the concrete hallways. Little did I know I would miss the chalky feeling on my hands from running my hands along the hall waiting for the next class to let out.
One of the last activities I had some of my students do was sit across the street and sketch Stage Center. “Show me how you want to remember it.” An hour later, I’m not sure I’ve seen work as beautiful as what I had seen that day since. I encourage everyone to go to the Myriad Gardens across the street, lay out on the grass and show the world how you remember Stage Center.