Established 100 years ago, the Orpheum Theatre transformed Galesburg’s cultural landscape. Today, the Orpheum staff extends the theatre’s legacy by drawing inspiration from its past.
The Orpheum Theatre could belong in a big city bustling with 1920s fervor, yet it is a brisk eight minute walk from campus. Located on 57 South Kellogg St., the theatre is one of the most special things about living in Galesburg. The historic building belongs to a series of theatres across the Midwest built by the Orpheum company. The gorgeous Italian plasterwork alone bumps the theatre’s worth well into the millions today and its worth shows.
“The fact that we have a building like this, this kind of public space in a town this size, especially with what some would call its gratuitous grandeur, is what makes [the theatre] cool,” said Ross McIntire, the Technical Director of the theatre.
In the five years that McIntire has worked at the theatre, he has become well acquainted with its rich history. He describes in detail the times when the theatre scene in Galesburg was at its peak. Of the many talented acts that walked through the doors, the famous include Amelia Earhart, The Marx Brothers and Harry Houdini. The theatre still has a center trapdoor that was cut out by the enigmatic magician himself.
McIntire and Kevin Maynard, Executive Director of the theatre, work hard to preserve the legacy before them. They believe making sure the theatre remains an active and accessible part of the community is essential. It’s Maynard’s job to sift through contracts and at times Google Search results, to provide engaging events at the theatre. He describes his dayÑtoÑday job as searching for constant improvement. However, Maynard recalls a time when the theatre booked another magician and things did not go so well.
“[The magician] had an illusion where he disappears on stage and then he reappears in the president’s box. He jumped on the box, haze comes up in this really big cloud and all of a sudden the fire alarm goes off…The power distribution got killed and shut off 90 percent of [the magician’s] show light. Basically, all of the lights shut off as the fire alarm was sounding!”
In the hands of a new generation of theatre directors, the Orpheum has retained much of its original micro-charm. Finding 35 cent ticket stubs, old brass concessions barriers and 50-year-old graffiti is not uncommon. Last August, the theatre hosted a “speakeasy” fundraiser event where they turned the theatre into a swanky night club.
“A lot of fundraisers, you buy a ticket and then they do a live auction or silent auction. Our fundraiser is the complete ticket price and you get some hors d’oeuvres, and a free drink. You are invited to have a good time,” Maynard said.
The throwback movie series is yet another homage to the past. The theatre has shown movies like “Singing In the Rain”, “Indiana Jones”, “E.T.” and “Jaws”. The selection of these films is meant to bridge the generation gap between parents and kids. Parents get to reminisce about the times when going to the theatre was social media. Kids get to experience classics the way they were meant to be watched. For the staff, watching Jaws was a particularly fun throwback as many residents had watched the premiere of “Jaws” at The Orpheum as teenagers themselves. Though parts of the film were campy, the shock factor of the movie withstood the test of time as both parents and young teens shouts echoed through the theatre.
Ticket prices are often completely free for the throwback series. True to it’s mid-30 years, when popcorn concessions saved an ailing movie business, the theatre makes most of its return on snack sales.
On Thursday, May 25, the theater will be hosting the movie “BIG” at 7p.m. Admission is free of charge.
“When we have kids in here, we give them tours in the morning. They’re all used to the AMC and movie theatres and just the dark boxes with nothing in them but the picture,” McIntire said.
The Orpheum is also involved in a theatre program for kids. YES is an open Youth Entertainment Series, designed to teach kids about appropriate theatre behavior. The program is completely free, and open to any residential children. The program aims to bring in kids who otherwise would not have any contact with The Orpheum, through its doors. YES hopes to inspire another generation of kids that will appreciate having theatre culture close by.
The theatre has programs for adults as well, and has many of them perform alongside the staff in their productions. For McIntire, one of the best parts of his job includes getting to watch ordinary people experience his day to day life.
Despite ticket prices, and its close distance to campus, the theatre can often be forgotten by students at Knox. Through email, Niki Acton ’16 a KnoxCorp fellow working with the theatre, communicated with TKS about the issue.
“I wish more Knox students came to the Orpheum. I rarely see Knox students at our shows. The Red Carpet Series, especially, is worth checking out. They bring national and international touring artists here and you’ll pay a fraction of the cost for a ticket than you would in Chicago — they even have a student discount,” said Acton.
However, Acton and Maynard as well as a number of other community leaders have teamed up to combat a lack of turnout at events. Galesburg GO is a website that will be launched on July 27 as a single online resource for events going on in town. This website will provide a detailed events calendar for all things Galesburg and should benefit many Knox students who simply are not aware of events outside the campus.”
For Acton, Maynard and Mcintire, the only way for the Orpheum to remain standing in the future is if it can preserve its community. The theatre thrives by having people come out in the open and interact with one another. The magic of the theatre is that it is one the few places that requires a community atmosphere to be preserved.
“One of the cool things about seeing a live show is that, give or take one person in the audience is what changes a performance. The impact of the arts socially is incredible. I mean, it creates a healthy community. [The theatre] creates better citizens. They read more, they’re involved in social government, they vote. There are so many studies that just tell you how great watching a play is, because it helps you recognize emotions on people’s faces and it gives you more empathy and humanity. That’s what I think you are preserving,” Maynard said.