Marcus Loew famously said, “patrons buy tickets to theatres, not movies,” and this may not hold more true than with atmospheric theatres.
This Saturday 13th November at 6pm UK time / 1pm US ET / 10am US PT, the brilliant folk at the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation invite you to join them as they explore the quaint villages, European cities, and fantasy lands within theatres of the 1920s and 30s.
This design style was renowned US architect John Eberson’s signature, creating an experience for Americans who may never travel beyond the United States. We are incredibly lucky that so many have survived and are thriving as entertainment venues today, continuing to transport patrons to another time and place.
The presentation will start in Los Angeles, travel across the US, and then explore theatres around the globe. Whether under a perfect summer blue sky or a twinkling starry night, your imagination is certain to run wild and deliver you to a far away locale.
An earlier version of this presentation was given in conjunction with the UK CTA in April 2021 and was their highest-ever attended online event with praise being lavished by audiences about the scope and quality of LAHTF Board Member Mike Hume’s presentation. Mike has expanded the presentation even further over the last months, adding a couple of continents, so that Saturday’s will be the biggest and widest-ranging atmospherics presentation ever seen!
In this time of restricted travel, what better tonic than to escape into the extraordinary world of atmospherics with our friends at LAHTF!
Tickets for this event are FREE for LAHTF Members & Volunteers – register at lahtf.org/MemberCoffee. Tickets are $10 for General Attendees – purchase at lahtf.org/CoffeeTix. 🗓 Saturday, November 13 ⏰ 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern / 6pm UK Email Tiffany@lahtf.org with any questions or to inquire about your membership status.
There’s a rare treat in store for anyone interested in theatres, movie palaces, grand design and architecture of the 1920s and 30s, when the Cinema Theatre Association presents a live collaboration with the renowned Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation on Saturday April 3rd at 5.30pm UK time (9.30am US Pacific Time)
The CTA and LAHTF invites you to go around the world with them on a magical journey to Spanish gardens, French palaces , Moorish promenades, Italian courtyards, Aztec temples and many more. All of them inside your neighbourhood theatre!
Dubbed the “atmospheric” style of theatre and movie palace, it was created and developed by one architect, John Eberson, in America in the 1920s. The idea behind the atmospherics was that most Americans being unable to travel outside their own country, other countries could be brought to them by their appearance being recreated inside a theatre auditorium.
That was the inspiration for these fascinating and intriguing recreations of outdoor spaces, where the skies are forever blue and the stars always twinkle on right on cue.
Come and enjoy seeing dozens of these unique survivors from around the world in a one-hour presentation from the comfort of your own home.
Watch the 90-second Trailer for this exciting show below
Tickets are just £4 per device and can be bought here
Frank Matcham, the greatest British theatre architect, died 100 years ago on Sunday, 17th May.
If you’re not familiar with his name, you will probably be familiar with his work – if I mention the London Palladium, The London Coliseum, The Victoria Palace, as well as many theatres up and down the country (including Buxton Opera House and Richmond Theatre) and most notably a string of Empire variety theatres for the Moss circuit. Frank Matcham was the doyen of theatre architects of his time, creating theatres across the land, during the golden age of theatre construction from 1890 to around 1912.
Astonishingly, at the time his work was rather looked down upon, with theatre and music hall being “mere” entertainment, but thankfully the passage of time has fully underlined his pre-eminence as one of the greatest architects of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.
Of the approximately 120 buildings that he either designed or remodelled, tragically only 26 remain today. Many were destroyed by wartime bombing, but even more (such as the Metropolitan Edgware Road) were wilfully bulldozed during the changing entertainment scene of the 1950s and 60s when theatregoing traditions faded away. Variety died, and TV was the box they buried it in.
Matcham was renowned for his professional punctuality, bringing jobs in on time and to schedule. His richly-detailed designs were opulent, with a grandeur and elegance, fully-flourished and embellished with all manner of decorative plasterwork that made his theatres a feast for the eyes before the curtain had even gone up. He was also a pioneer in the use of steel frameworks for his theatres, which gave his auditoria the strength to eliminate the need for pillars, allowing unobstructed views from every seat in the house and excellent sightlines, another Matcham trademark. Often larger-scale designs, often seating over 2,000, his auditoria were also known for their remarkable feeling of intimacy which was vital for variety shows – the medium for which he built so many of his theatres – and one of the many reasons they are still so rewarding to visit today.
Better informed and more scholarly writers than me have written many biographies of Matcham, so I shan’t add to the already sizeable pile*. Much has been written about the man and his designs too, but I would like to take a rather different tack.
As someone who has been privileged to manage a Matcham Theatre, I would like to discuss his skill as an engineer of flow in the spaces he created.
I was fortunate enough to spend some years managing the Victoria Palace, built by Matcham in 1911 on the site of the old Royal Standard Music Hall. This was built was a variety house, for twice nightly variety (three shows Wednesday and Saturday – in total, sixteen a shows a week!), and the front of house areas were opulent and gilded as any other Matcham beauty. After just a few days there, what impressed me so much was how the theatre actually worked. Regular readers may recall that I have already written about there being a dome in the ceiling of the auditorium which was on runners and effectively “rolled off” to allow the hot air to escape after each matinee or first house. Remember, this was before any type of air-conditioning had been imagined, and with twice nightly variety, the ingenious Matcham gave us a way to regulate the auditorium temperature – vital in those long hot summers that we occasionally got! (and believe me, the Upper Circle in summer could feel like sitting in a microwave!). You can find my earlier article here.
Matcham’s skill as an engineer was undoubted; what dawned on me quickly was how smart he was as an engineer of flow. Getting 1500 people in and out of a theatre is not a quick and easy job, and the Victoria Palace’s creative design was a gift to those times when a swift turnaround was needed.
Here’s an example – I was managing the show BUDDY, which had back to back shows on Friday at 5.30 and 8.30, As the show ran 2 hours 45 (give or take a few minutes) I was intrigued to see how fast we would manage taking 1500 people out of the theatre and immediately bringing in another house of 1500 at top speed. Thankfully Matcham had already provided for this in his design, and of course this is what the V-P was built for, twice nightly with a 20-minute turnaround, and it’s certainly where it came into its own!
Here’s how it worked – with a full house of 1500 in watching the first performance, patrons would start arriving for the second house while the first one was still running. Thanks to the way the theatre was designed, we could open the main stalls bar directly from the street to take a few hundred stalls patrons, check their tickets and get them buying drinks (and using the bar toilets as needed). We could do the same for the Dress Circle patrons, checking tickets and getting them into the Dress Circle bar. We could then fill the foyer areas, and in this way we could probably accommodate about half of our full house capacity within the theatre, with the remainder thronging on the street outside.
At 8.20 the first house would come down and that audience (from all levels) would then be channelled out of the left hand side of the building through a large bank of exit doors just off the auditorium which took the crowds onto a side street. Staircases brought the upper levels down to their own exits on the same side. By keeping certain doors closed we could regulate the flow of patrons like a heart valve pumps blood – in one way, out the other. So with the first house exited left, we could then check, clear, reset and reopen the house within minutes. It was one of those all-hands-on-deck moments that are so exhilarating in theatre – 1500 gone, 1500 waiting, and the clock ticking. Thankfully, audiences were usually keen to be seated which meant that an 8.35 start was often achieved, at the latest 8.40.
Its only when you see the clarity of design thinking in action with a full house that you really appreciate the brilliance of an architect like Matcham. I know that so many theatres are not half as well thought-through, which can occasionally make them a nightmare to manage.
As someone who has had the privilege to manage a Matcham, I can safely say it was like driving a Rolls Royce.
It is at this point that I must “come out” to you all. I am a member of the Frank Matcham Society, a large group of admirers of the man’s work, who regularly visit, enjoy and write about the craft, skill and panache of this master architect.
In recognition of the Centenary anniversary, The Matcham Society have produced an excellent, comprehensively detailed 110-page book by Michael Sell, covering all of his theatres, and is well worth reading. You can find details of the book (ISBN 978-1-9163618-0-5) through the Society.
And you can find details of the Frank Matcham Society here
Frank Matcham’s surviving theatres are listed and rightly so – they will never be equalled for engineering, decoration, design, intimacy, elegance and comfort. For those of us who have served the theatregoing public, we have daily cause to be grateful for the skill and planning of – to my mind- the greatest theatre architect of all time.
*For those interested in reading more, a very comprehensive article about Frank Matcham and his work can be found here
COUNTRY-WIDE From 13 to 22 September, there are over 100 theatre-related events going on across the country during Heritage Open Days. Most likely a theatre near you will be opening its doors to offer tours of the buildings. Intrigued? Then take a look at their website here where you can search what’s happening near you.
LONDON – V&A – Discover the creative process behind designing for performance, from costume to set design at Staging Places, which celebrates the diversity of British performance design across spaces and genres. This display, in collaboration with the Society of British Theatre Designers, presents costumes, set designs, models, photos, drawings and puppets that reveal the creative process behind designing for performance. And best of all, its free! Running now until 29 March 2020. More information here
STOCKTON ON TEES – Preston Park Museum – A fascinating exhibition about the life -and rebirth- of Stockton’s magnificent Globe is now on. The building has had a splendid history. Opened as a 2400-seater cinema in December 1935, the building closed in 1996 and has lain empty for over 20 years, falling into terrible disrepair. Thankfully Stockton Council have saved the building and it is undergoing extensive modernisation works, with a planned reopening in Spring 2020. Explore the story of the Globe and its restoration in this fascinating exhibition. Find out about the famous acts – including Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elton John – who played at the venue. Plus, discover the exciting future for the newly restored Globe. The exhibition is on now until October 6th at the Preston Park Museum. Admission into the museum is paid but the Globe exhibition is presented at no extra cost. More information here. And to find out more about the reborn Globe, see their new website here.
LONDON – ISLINGTON MUSEUM – “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay!” is an exhibition about Islington’s many popular Music Halls. For over 100 years, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the borough’s many music halls and variety theatres entertained generations of Islingtonians. Each venue promised a unique evening’s entertainment and local residents and visitors would drop in to see their favourite ‘turns’. Explore a time when variety was definitely the spice of life. The exhibition is free and a range of attached talks, shows and walks have been curated to further visitors’ enjoyment. On until 22 October. More details here