Monday, December 29, 2014

President's Page: Three Decades with the Orpheum

As some you have probably heard, I recently announced my retirement and will hand over the reins to a new President on December 31st, 2015. But I won't be going far. After that I will be moving over to the new Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education to be part of that project's first year of operation.

By the time I leave, it will have been 35 years of pure enjoyment and reward. I never felt like coming to the Orpheum office each day was "going to work".  It felt more like I was going to my favorite hangout to meet up with great friends and do very neat things. 

Before I get too reminiscent, let me make it clear to everyone who has ever been to a show, made a  donation, sponsored an event or project, or served as a Board member, staff member or volunteer: you all made this time so fabulous and provided the incentive for us to reach for higher mountains each and every day.  As the old adage goes, “It takes a village,” and a village indeed responded!  The Orpheum is a small village within the larger Memphis community, and I truly believe that together we have made a difference.   

While I will be on the job for another 12 months, I have much to do in that short time.  I have some special goals in mind.  First, we look ahead to finishing construction of the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education.  With the new Centre we will be advancing our current 19 education programs and will fine-tune the addition of several new programs designed to serve an even broader segment of our community, offering opportunities for individual growth and development. 

We’ll also make improvements in the historic Orpheum such as refurbished seating, restoration of the interior gold and silver leaf, and plans for future renovations that will help us in our mission to preserve our beautiful theatre. I’ll be working to offer our patrons like you more fabulous Broadway musicals and a wide variety of concerts and special events.    

The contributions you make as the year ends will help us see our vision for the future come to fruition. Consider supporting the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education with a year-end gift, or create a lasting memory for your loved ones with a personalized brick in the new plaza entry. Please consider making a year-end gift today.

Throughout my years at the Orpheum, you – the Memphis community – have always supported the theatre.  I look forward to working with you through my last year, which looks to be our best year yet.

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO

Friday, December 26, 2014

Spotlight: Thanks for a Fantastic 2014

2014 was a tremendous year for Memphis and the Orpheum. Here's a quick snapshot of one of the theatre's best years yet, plus a year-in-review video for you to enjoy: 

Broadway Series: From the land of Oz to Ralphie's air rifle, the 2014 Broadway season was packed with spectacular productions (32 Tony wins collectively!). Watch the video to relive the highlights from all of these great shows: Wicked, War Horse, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Book of Mormon, Phantom of the Opera, Once, and A Christmas Story, The Musical. 

Concerts, Comedians and Special Events: The Orpheum was honored to play host to a full slate of talented performers in 2014, including Gladys Knight, Morrissey, Crosby Stills and Nash, Penn & Teller, Aziz Ansari, Alton Brown and Widespread Panic -- just to name a few. The Grizz Girls also held audition finals right here on our stage!

Summer Movie Series: When you see a film at the Orpheum, you get more than a classic film -- you get an entire cinematic experience! We kicked off the 2014 summer series with a double dose of zombies and a "Thriller" flash mob on May 30. Other special events included an Orpheum-themed Clue game and a Little Princess tea party honoring Shirley Temple.

Education and Community Programs: Our education department has certainly been busy! Here's a quick look at how many students, families and teachers our 19 programs helped this year:
  • 175: Teachers in professional development workshops, 58 for the first time and 21 who teach English as a second language
  • 282: Schools in the tri-state area
  • 825: Students in Workshops and Classes
  • 6,340: Tickets granted to schools and students for education performances
  • 36,326: Patrons in our Family and Student Matinee Series
  • Over 70,000 students, teachers and families in all!
And here's a roundup of "firsts" for our programs:

Annual Orpheum Events and Fundraisers: You all deserve a special shoutout for making our year even more meaningful! We hosted our 36th Annual Auction and Raffle -- congrats to all the winners! -- and the 13th Annual Ken Sossaman Memorial Golf Tournament, as well as several Dinners on Stage. Plus, you helped us kick off our inaugural Backstage Bash and first-ever Break-A-Leg 5K. Your support at each of these events, as well as your patronage at the theatre, are vital to our annual success.

Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education: In March 2014, we broke ground on our new centre. With two floors totaling over 39,000 square feet of space, the centre will provide adequate classrooms for instruction, a large multi-use rehearsal hall, and a state-of-the-art stage and 356 seat theatre – allowing for more musicals, concerts, family programs, and multicultural events. Nine months later, you can really see what the building will become: a true haven for education and community in the Mid-South.

Theatre Headlines: We also shared some important news for the Orpheum and its future:
  • Earlier this month, Pat Halloran announced his retirement and will end his 35-year tenure as President and CEO on December 31, 2015
  • A new, state-of-the-art sound system was installed, the first major upgrade since the 1997 renovation
  • Installation of new seat cushions began this month
  • Plans were put into place to provide additional legroom; to renovate the theatre's bathrooms; and to restore the gold-and-silver leaf in the auditorium in future years.

In all, more than 266,000 patrons enjoyed the Orpheum in 2014 -- wow! Thanks for an incredible year. We have an amazing 2015 planned for you! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering John Hiltonsmith

John Hiltonsmith and his talents mean a lot to the Mid-South community, and we wanted to provide  a space for friends and fans to remember John. If you would like to contribute to this post, please leave a comment below.

He carefully replaced the broken piano string in my 1908 Steinway and told me that it was probably original, so worth preserving. John neatly bent it into a manageable size and placed it in my piano bench, along with his card noting the information. That was just a little over a year ago.

We had a dress rehearsal for our Lindenwood Christmas concert on December 6th that lasted until noon and John was there, since he was to be the sound technician for our December 7th concert. John and I talked for about 10 minutes after the rehearsal ended at noon and the conversation seemed important to me that day and stuck with me, although I couldn't say why.

I've known John for a long time and he helped me, as well as my family, many times. My son attended MUS and was fortunate to be a member of "Beg To Differ", so I knew John as his director, teacher, and mentor, as well as a fellow musician. I called on John frequently and asked if "Beg To Differ" would perform for various Symphony League events, as well as for Les Passees.  Each time John graciously agreed to perform at these events, contributing to help the organizations.  We also discussed silent auctions for the Orpheum and the Symphony League, to which he generously contributed.  He donated his time, his talent, and his services each and every time I asked.

On Saturday, December 6th, after a memorable conversation, John and I parted ways around 12:20pm.  We had things all lined out for the next day's concert and I just knew it would be a good one, especially with John's help.  Not even two hours later, I got a phone call saying that John was gone. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't today.
Suddenly I remembered the piano string and the note that John left for me in my piano bench.

That broken string, so carefully preserved by John, has taken on new meaning and importance to me since John died. It will forever remain in my piano bench, just where he meticulously put it, a dear remembrance of John. You never know when the small things will become significant. John, however, did seem to know, and I thank you, my dear friend.

-- Lura Turner, member of the Memphis Development Foundation Board of Directors

My most vivid memories of John are from high school at MUS in the '80s or with his girls getting ready for movies.

As education's VP the world has come full circle.

John popped his head inside my office (he'd been playing the organ for 10 year before I got here) and said, "Hey, Alice (knew my name), you went to Hutchison right?" "Nope St Agnes," said a sassy  26-year-old. "Mr. Hiltonsmith what are you doing here?" I'm going to play the organ for the movie,  let me introduce you to my girls....."

That day he became John - my world changed.
-- Alice Roberts, Vice President of Community & Education at the Orpheum

John Hiltonsmith and one of his singing groups, circa 1988.

I loved how cool it was to watch him come up and down from the pit playing the organ, and I loved that he always waved to the audience before descending.  The Summer Movie Series audiences LOVED watching and hearing him play – a lot of people came early to make sure that they got to see the famous organ. 

-- Christina Torres, Press Relations Manager at the Orpheum

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spotlight: DREAM CARVER Offers Masterful Puppetry, Encourages Creativity and Culture

Always striving for the new and wonderful, the Orpheum Family Series will - for the first time - present a bilingual musical, Dream Carver, on January 23rd.  Based on the children’s book of the same name written by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova, Dream Carver uses puppetry and original songs to tell the story of a small boy, Mateo, in Mexico who dreams of taking the family carving business to new creative heights.

Our Family Series always offers fun, engaging, and innovative productions that allow students and parents alike to discover the joy of learning through the arts.  Dream Carver is no exception!  This show is much more than a musical: it’s an opportunity for families to embrace creativity, immerse into a new culture, and experience masterful puppetry in action.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book, Mateo is growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico where father has taught him to carve small wooden toys in the traditional way.  One night, he dreams of fantastic, brightly colored animals that dance and sing, led by a charismatic quetzal (an iridescent bird).  When Mateo wakes up, he begins carving his dream animals into life – bigger, better, and brighter than the way his family has done for generations.  Through Mateo’s experience, audiences are encouraged to think creatively, try new things, and celebrate individuality. 

Creativity is one of those words that almost automatically lends itself to the arts.  While Mateo’s case is no different, creativity is much more than a unique drawing, writing a poem, or even carving an animal straight out of your imagination.  Creativity helps people find their way around unfamiliar problems.  It encourages one to look at the world with a different perspective – or even make a change in the world!  Being creative is an asset in just about any profession, and one great way to improve creative skills is to look beyond what something is and imagine what it could be.  Here, families get to join Mateo on his own creative journey.

Dream Carver offers a great way to introduce the entire family to a new language and a new culture.  Whether you and your family are trying to learn Spanish or are learning English as a second language, this show provides a fun-filled opportunity to practice basic vocabulary and discover Mexican traditions through the excitement of a live performance.

Dream Carver will also allow audiences to enjoy expert puppetry by Swazzle Productions, which offers talents akin to some of your favorite entertainment companies.  Haven’t heard of Swazzle?  You definitely know some of the names on their resume.  Swazzle puppeteers and designers have been trained by and worked with world-renowned groups like The Jim Henson Company, Muppets Studio, and The Walt Disney Company.  Wow!

Swazzle has created an entire world full of relatable characters brought to life by Broadway-trained puppeteers, colorful sets, and captivating music.  Dream Carver provides an unforgettable performance that will broaden horizons and encourage children to pursue their own creative passions with confidence. 

Dream Carver plays Friday, January 23rd, 2015 at 6:30 PM.  This show is recommended for ages 6 and up.  Tickets are $15 for regular admission or $25 for VIP.  Click here to learn more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Win Tickets to Trace Adkins “The Christmas Show 2014” featuring Jason Crabb


Nothing puts you in the Yuletide spirit like classic carols, and that’s just what Trace Adkins will be offering at The Orpheum on Tuesday, December 16th… plus more!

In a recent interview, Trace describes “The Christmas Show” as “the most beautiful project I’ve ever been a part of.”  And beautiful it is.  This charismatic baritone will transform the Orpheum stage into a cozy living room decked in holiday cheer.  You’ll see stockings hung over the fireplace with care, a sparkling Christmas tree, and Trace will chat directly to the audience from a comfy leather chair. 

In addition to 11 memorable songs sung by Trace and several more performed by special guests and his 12-piece Sarepta Symphony, Trace will give the audiences heartwarming, historical and humorous anecdotes about the carols that we hold dear.  We’ll find out where they came from and the stories behind what makes them great. 

Not only that, the Memphis engagement is one of only a handful of performances that will feature celebrated musician Jason Crabb.  With his unmatchable voice, unparalleled charisma, GRAMMY nods and 21 Dove Awards aside, Jason is a rare breed with a powerful, emotive voice and talent that transcends industry labels.

Long story short, if “The Christmas Show” doesn’t take you to holiday heights, nothing will!  But don’t just take our word for it.  Check out these glowing interviews and reviews about the show:
"He opened with 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),' a choice that immediately showed off his rich baritone, which dipped to deep bass for the finish, and displayed surprisingly good delivery and phrasing." -- Lehigh Valley Music

"Adkins relied on two of his greatest instruments – his vocal range and his personality to deliver what could very well be his strongest stage production yet." -- Billboard

Trace Adkins “The Christmas Show 2014” plays at the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday, December 16 at 8:00 PM.  For tickets and more information, click here.

We're also giving away tickets to see the show! Use the form below to leave a comment and/or send a Tweet! You'll receive a chance to win for each way to enter. One lucky person will win a pair of tickets to Tuesday's performance!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All entries will be put into one pool and one winner will be chosen at random for all entries received. Entries must be received by 11:59pm Wednesday, December 10, 2014. Winner will be notified by Thursday, December 11, at 5pm. Tickets will be available for pickup on the night of the show, Tuesday, December 16, 2014, at the Orpheum Theatre's Will Call window at 203 S. Main St., Memphis, TN 38103. Read the official rules here.


Monday, December 8, 2014

John Hiltonsmith, longtime organist and friend of the Orpheum, has passed away

John Hiltonsmith
John Hiltonsmith, longtime Orpheum house organist, volunteer and friend of the theatre, passed away at his home on Saturday, December 6, 2014.

For almost 30 years John donated his time and considerable talents to enhance everyone’s enjoyment of music.  He was the driving force behind the restoration efforts of The Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, countless hours spent repairing the various pipes and instruments and re-plastering  the vast chambers.   A skilled musician, John delighted audiences during the Orpheum’s summer movie series by ascending from the organ pit at the console of the historic organ, and bringing the majestic Wurlitzer to life.

Much as he cared for his instruments, he tended to and fostered love of music and the arts in his students at Memphis University School for 31 years.

John leaves behind his family, including Orpheum staff member Sherry Robinson, and daughters Jennifer and Julia. The theatre is grateful for the support of this gracious family, and all of our thoughts and prayers are with them.

John’s friendship will be deeply missed.