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VOL. 128 | NO. 187 | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Casting Call

Orpheum seeks theatergoers’ memories for 85th anniversary

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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One of Pat Halloran’s favorite memories of The Orpheum Theatre Memphis happened back in 1986, when he got the chance to kick around town with Cary Grant for three days.

“That was a phenomenal experience for me,” said the Orpheum president and CEO. “He was 83 at the time and in town for a one-night performance of ‘A Conversation with Cary Grant.’”

The Orpheum Theatre President and CEO Pat Halloran looks at a photo of the original Orpheum opera house. The theater is seeking artifacts to help celebrate its 85th anniversary, which will kick off in November.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

During that time, Halloran joined Grant and his wife, Barbara, for lunch at Paulette’s, dinner at Chez Philippe and a walk through Goldsmith’s Gardens. And while all those experiences were wonderful, Halloran said his favorite part of Grant’s visit was when Grant walked out on the Orpheum stage and said, “My, this is a beautiful theater!”

After 33 years at the Orpheum, Halloran has many favorite memories to share; however, it’s other people’s memories he really wants right now – namely yours.

Since its grand opening in 1928, the Orpheum Theatre has been entertaining local residents through its various incarnations, from its two decades as a vaudeville theater to 36 years as a Malco movie theater to its final role as a grand theatrical venue for large-scale Broadway shows and other live performances.

In recognition of this rich history, in November the Orpheum Theatre staff will celebrate its 85th anniversary with a yearlong celebration.

Some big plans are in the works, Halloran said, but one particular event will need some input from Mid-South Orpheum fans to be a true success.

“We’d like to ask people with interesting stories about the Orpheum to tell us about them,” Halloran said. “The theater really belongs to the people, and they are the ones who are really responsible for making it what it is today. We want them to play an active role in celebrating its history.”

Exhibits planned for different sections of the theater will showcase Orpheum memorabilia and chronicle special moments from the past 85 years. Organizers are on the lookout for items such as letters, photographs, films, artifacts, and objects that may have been sold at various times during the Orpheum’s history.

“There are people out there that might have something we might not have, like a program from an early show,” Halloran said. “We hope everyone will look through their attics, dust off those old photo albums and help us fill a few gaps for our exhibition.”

And don’t forget those memories.

“Equally important are the stories,” he said. “So many romantic things have happened here over the years, such as marriage proposals, significant wedding anniversary celebrations, first dates with a future spouse. We want to hear about those moments.”

In addition to the exhibit, the Orpheum will kick off the anniversary year on Saturday, Nov. 16, with the theater’s 35th annual auction. Proceeds from the auction and other special events will be used to maintain the historic theater and fund the Orpheum’s new $14.5 million Centre for Performing Arts, of which construction is expected to start in January, Halloran said.

“The center will be our anniversary present to the city. It will be a place where kids can learn to dance, act and sing and, because it will be the same size as the Orpheum, we’ll also use it as a rehearsal space for shows,” Halloran said. “It will be a phenomenally important building for us. We already have 60,000 kids and their families coming through our education classes each year. Now, with that center, we’ll be able to do more of that because we can have multiple events.”

Memphis resident Lucia Gilliland has been involved with the Orpheum since it opened in 1928. Her favorite memory is watching it evolve from a deteriorating, dirty building to the grand theater it is today.

In the mid-1970s, the building was in such disrepair that Malco decided to sell it and there was talk of demolishing it and transforming it into a parking lot. Then the Memphis Development Foundation and Halloran came to the rescue, she said.

“We had to do a national search to find Pat, and at first he said he’d only take the job for a couple of years,” she said. “Even he had absolutely no idea what a phenomenal success he’d become. He did everything we suggested as well as things we didn’t even think of. It was obvious that Pat found the job that was perfect for him, and we found the person who was perfect for us.”

For more information on the Orpheum Theatre, visit orpheum-memphis.com. Those wishing to share their stories with the Orpheum team or who would like to donate pictures, programs, posters, invitations or other artifacts to the exhibition can contact Christina Torres at torres@orpheum-memphis.com.

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