Theater folk are a superstitious lot. A bad dress rehearsal is a good omen, whistling backstage is a surefire way to cause an accident, and wishing an actor good luck or uttering the name Macbeth are basically invitations for a hex.
Another common theater superstition is the use of a ghost light. Placed in the center of the stage when all other lights have been turned out, it casts a glow to prevent thespians and staff from bumping into scenery or tumbling into orchestra pits, but the light also has a unique tie to the spiritual world.
“The ghost light in the middle of the stage is setup for spirits to perform their own shows when the living are not nearby,” said Jared Johnson, general manager of The Orpheum in downtown Twin Falls.
With a history dating back nearly 100 years, a performing cast of specters at The Orpheum doesn’t seem too far-fetched, and the current company doesn’t seem to mind sharing the stage.
A Vaudeville Gem
Bits and pieces of the theater’s century-long history can be found by simply looking up. As you walk down Main Avenue in Twin Falls, cast your gaze toward the roof of The Orpheum and you’ll see the engraved initials of the Twin Falls Amusement Company who began construction of the theater in 1919 during the vaudeville era. On Halloween of 1921, its doors officially opened to the public.
“Entertainment was very different back then,” Jared said. “When you’d go to a night of theater, you’d get an entire evening’s worth of entertainment, including multiple acts and a silent film to close out the night.”
Every show was a collection of unique cultural experiences. From in-house bands to traveling musicians, and comedians to magicians with rabbits in their hats, no two shows were alike. As owners changed throughout the years, so did the theater’s primary function. For many years, The Orpheum ran solely as a single-screen movie theater, but its versatility was restored once purchased by Ovation Performing Arts nearly six years ago.
Back to its Roots
While theatergoers can still catch a flick at The Orpheum today, movies are only a small portion of the theater’s current entertainment offerings.
“For a while, the stage was just a storage space,” said Jared. “We converted it back to a dual-use working stage where we can show classic movies and host comedians, musicals and plays. We use the top floors of the building to teach theater classes to local youth and rehearse for shows. We teach voice and dance lessons, too. It’s all housed under one roof.”
While the theater’s younger students can often be found performing in the community, the in-house company, The Magic Valley Repertory Theater, considers The Orpheum their home away from home.
“We typically do a show every month and a half with performances that run for two to three weeks,” Jared said. “There’s a stupidly disproportionate amount of talent in this area and because of that we are very fortunate.”
The Fun Side of the World is in Twin Falls
The success of a theater is a two-way street. Although the Magic Valley is teeming with theatrical talent, Jared said the spectators are also proportionately intrigued by what the theater offers.
“People are always looking for something to do and we’re constantly trying to provide access to entertainment and culture in this area,” he said. “That was the point of building this theater in the first place, and while we may be a small town, we’ve always got something cool going on here.”
To Jared’s point, The Orpheum was built to serve the needs of the area. Although a theater of this caliber would undoubtedly excel in a larger city, families in the Magic Valley are appreciative of the access they have to unique cultural entertainment alongside wide open spaces.
“For us, it’s really about bringing that idea of connectedness to the world around you and telling whatever story you want to tell through a movie, through dance, through theater or through music, in a place that’s dedicated to do that,” said Jared. “It’s about showing people the fun side of the world.”
A Haunting Past
Through a host of renovations and virtual adaptations during the era of COVID-19, the Ovation Performing Arts team has remained focused on a successful future, but the past has a tendency to pop up in unexpected ways.
“Every time we do a bit of renovation where we have to expose old bits of the building, we find something,” Jared said.
The team has uncovered curtains and backdrops that were hidden away for nearly 70 years. They’ve found pieces of chairs, newspapers and miniature cigars sealed up from a 1920s smoke break. Support pillars are marked with autographs and old popcorn prices, and letters tucked in wall crevices detail the handwritten experiences of a performer working a theater circuit.
“We’ve also discovered an immense amount of old technology including the original power panel that looks like it came straight from Frankenstein’s lab.”
Accompanying the stories told by historical artifacts are four ghostly haunts: the lady in the balcony, the boy in the window, the stage manager and the little girl who’s been spotted in restrooms, concession storage, dressing rooms and more. People hear her giggling and sprinting around when the theater is otherwise empty.
The invisible footsteps of theater spirits are a powerful reminder of The Orpheum’s past, and with them come stories and traditions to be carried into the future.
“As we continue to update and uncover pieces of the theater, you can see the joy and love people have had for this place over the years,” Jared said. “We’re bringing that old glory back, mixing the 1920’s with the 2020’s to create an experience that’s truly vibrant.”
To learn more about The Orpheum Theater, visit https://orpheumtwinfalls.com.