Kool Kat of the Week: Carmie McDonald’s Take on Preserving Georgia’s Historic Theatres, Reviving Communities ‘One Theatre at a Time’ and the Fox Theatre Institute’s Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour

Posted on: Apr 30th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Carmie McDonald, Community Engagement Manager at the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), an outreach division of Atlanta’s Fabulous FoxTheatre, immerses herself in Georgia’s rich and glorious history of magical movie palaces and theatres along with the communities that have stood by them. What’s even better is that she gets the opportunity to join the communities the FTI has served while celebrating their successes during their free Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour, coming to a theatre near you, May 1 through May 3, 2014!

The Revival Tour will make stops at The President Theatre in nearby Manchester, Ga. on May 1, followed by a stop at Atlanta’s own, The PlazaTheatre, ranked as one of the world’s top 20 movie theatres [Men’sJournal, April 2014] on May 2 and lastly, the tour will come to a halt in Athens, Ga., showcasing The Morton Theatre on May 3! Each stop on the tour includes a community festival, helping raise awareness of the importance of historic preservation and showcasing all three restoration project venues funded by their highly competitive FTI grants. Atlanta’s own legendary blues chanteuse, Francine Reed, will take the stage and woo the crowds at each stop along the way!

Before jumping head first into her dream job, McDonald hailed from Savannah where she earned graduate degrees in Historic Preservation and Architectural History at Savannah College of Art & Design. She worked her preservation magic with the Historic SavannahFoundation and was the perfect candidate for the Community Engagement Manager at the FTI.

The FTI is the Fox Theatre’s way of giving back to the community that rescued it from its near demolition back in the ‘70s. In an effort to draw the public into the realm of its glory days while raising awareness of the importance of historic preservation, the Fox Theatre began hosting their Fox Theatre Tours in the spring of 2013 [Herald-Journal, May 2013]. These 60-minute guided tours expose audiences to the behind-the-scenes details and illustrious history of the extravagant and palace-like venue which remains just as magnificent as it did when their doors opened in 1929. And as an added bonus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet our very own Kool Kat Scott Hardin, projectionist at the Fox Theatre since 1978 [July 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Scott Hardin, here].

ATLRetro caught up with Carmie McDonald for a quick interview about the FTI, the importance of historic preservation in Georgia’s communities and her love of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, which excitedly celebrates its 85th birthday this year!

Community Engagement Manager for the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) sounds like such a cool job! Tell our readers how you landed such an envious gig and what’s your favorite aspect of the job?

I’ve been with the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) since 2008 and not a day goes by that I don’t pause to think about what a privilege it is to work here. It is rewarding to be part of an organization that has meant so much to the Atlanta community for 85 years. I love seeing someone experience the Fox Theatre for the first time.  You’re never too old to be swept away by the magic of this place!

Has being in the historic preservation field always been a dream of yours? Anything interesting you can tell our readers on what drew you to such a fascinating field?

I’ve always appreciated old buildings and the stories they tell about our past, so historic preservation was a natural fit as a career choice. But, historic preservation is not just a movement about buildings and the past. It is also about the people in the community and the future. I love helping ensure that our historic theatres will be here for future generations to enjoy.

What is the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) and what does it do for the community? Why do you think it is important to preserve Georgia’s theatres?

The Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) is the community engagement division of the Fox Theatre. We provide support to historic theatres throughout the region in the form of preservation and operations assistance. There are more than 260 historic theatres throughout the state and each one is a significant part of the community it serves. Preserving these theaters is an important part of community-wide revitalization.

What can you tell us about the two restoration projects that were completed this year?  The President Theatre in nearby Manchester and The Plaza Theatre located right here in Atlanta?

The Fox Theatre Institute provided The President Theatre with funding to complete the restoration of their façade, from the marquee to the top of the tower and spire, both being in disrepair for more than thirty years. Through the support of FTI and other granting organizations, this theatre is being restored to its original Art Deco splendor. FTI also provided grant funding for the restoration of The Plaza Theatre’s landmark marquee. The restoration process at The Plaza involved removing rust and repainting the sign to its original colors.  In addition, new LED lighting was added to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly marquee.

And what can you tell us about Athens’ Morton Theatre which received their grant in 2011 and is also spotlighted on this tour?

The Morton Theatre holds a special place in Athens’ history. It was built as a Vaudeville theatre in 1910 by Pink Morton, a prominent African-American businessman. Since then it has served the community as an anchor on Athens’ ‘Hot Corner,’ the historic African-American business district at the intersection of Hull and Washington streets. FTI provided funding for restoration of the theatre’s original wood flooring system in 2011.

How does the FTI choose which theatre receives a grant? Is it a competitive process?

FTI accepts applications from historic theatres that are owned by a public agency or non-profit organization. Applications are reviewed by a panel of arts and preservation professionals. Funding is awarded to theatres that will create significant economic and cultural impact to the communities they serve.

Why do you think it is important to preserve art and culture? What is the goal of the FTI and their desire to, “Revitalize Georgia’s communities, one theatre at a time?”

Arts and culture contribute to Georgia’s communities by creating jobs and providing tax revenue. They are essential to education because they facilitate critical-thinking and communication skills. Furthermore, arts and culture are integral components of vibrant, creative and livable cities. FTI believes that the revitalization of a historic theatre can provide a focal point for the economic and cultural development of a community.

Tell our readers a little bit about the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour kicking off on May 1, 2014? What sort of exciting things do you have in store for attendees?

FTI will showcase three of its theatre restoration projects during the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour. The three-day tour, taking place May 1 – 3, aims to raise awareness for each of the historic venues by embracing local community efforts surrounding the preservation of these theatres. Each destination on the Tour will host a community festival, featuring Atlanta resident and legendary blues songstress, Francine Reed.

Tell us a little bit about FTI’s relationship with the celebrated blues chanteuse, Francine Reed and how she was chosen to headline the community festivals attached to the tour.

FTI believes in supporting local talent whenever possible. Whether working with preservation contractors or musicians, FTI strives to partner with people that are connected with their communities. Francine Reed has an amazing voice and a deep connection with the music scene in Atlanta, so selecting her to headline our Theatre Revival Tour was an easy decision!

Anything exciting in the works for future FTI projects?  How about anything new happening with the Fox Theatre Tours you’d like to tell our readers?

Forty years ago, the people of Atlanta rallied to save the Fox Theatre from demolition. Since that time, the Fox Theatre has been deeply committed to giving back to the community that saved us. Be on the lookout for some exciting events during this special anniversary year!

 

 

All photographs are courtesy of the Fox Theatre Institute (unless otherwise noted) and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Where is Love and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA? Scott Hardin Finds Both as Projectionist for the Fabulous Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jul 26th, 2013 By:

Fox Theatre Projectionist Scott Hardin with an original 1929 projector.

By Gretchen Jacobsen
Contributing Writer

While The Fabulous Fox Theatre was not actually conceived as a movie house (it was originally intended to be the headquarters for the Shriners’ organization) and it amazingly almost faced the wrecking ball in the 1970s, its history as the Southeast’s premiere glittering palace of cinema is firmly entrenched.

While The Fox has been transformed from a movie house to a multipurpose arts venue, its storied past in cinema is kept alive by the Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival which kicked off in June. From now through August, The Fox will present seven more features on the biggest screen in Atlanta. Before the movie starts, patrons are treated to a sing-a-long with the “Mighty Mo” organ and a vintage cartoon. This weekend’s features include Quentin Tarantino‘s DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)[Fri. July 26 at 7:30 p.m.], the animated caveman comedy THE CROODS (2013) [Sat. July 27 at 2 p.m.] and a new digital version of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) [Sun. July 28 at 4 p.m.]as well as the official Sing-a-Long version of the John Travolta-Olivia Netwon-John ’50s-themed high school movie musical GREASE (1978), which is not part of the official series.

Only in July, the Fox Theater also will present special movie tours before this weekend’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival screenings. These tours will take you to the projection booth, screening room, two star dressing rooms and the stage while learning about the history of the movie palace and Mr. William Fox‘s innovations. The Fox also offers behind-the-scenes hour-long tours year-round.

Making this all possible, in a sense, is our Kool Kat of the Week, Scott Hardin. Scott has been the film projectionist at the Fox since 1978, making this his 39th year in the projection booth. We recently caught up with Scott to talk about film, history, the new tours and his own beginnings in “showbiz.”

ATLRetro: How did you become a film projectionist? 

Scott Hardin: I was too old to pretend I was Zorro anymore, even though my grandmother made me a wonderful cape that I got a lot of mileage out of. That, and a friend of mine I had met when he was working for Theater of the Stars – while I was a 14-year-old kid in THE SOUND OF MUSIC – had later joined the projectionists’ union and thought I might like to train to be one, too, given our past “showbiz” affiliations. He was a great friend named Jeb Stewart, who had actually sung on Broadway in the chorus of various shows. My biggest claim to fame had been playing the role of OLIVER at 12 years of age in the summer production at Theater Under the Stars, which was then outdoors at Chastain Park Amphitheater. What does that have to do with your question?  Not a thing, but I can still sing “Where is Love?” for you if you’d like.  Jeb Stewart later became the Business Agent of the Projectionist’s Union and sent me to help with the Fox projector installation those many years ago.

The auditorium and stage of the Fox Theatre. Photo credit: Yukari Umekawa.

When did you start at The Fox? What was the Fox like at that time?

I started in the spring of 1978 helping with the installation of projectors that had been brought over from the Loew’s Grand Theatre [Ed. note: another Atlanta movie palace which had been the site of the world premiere of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and tragically was destroyed by fire that year].  I was a young movie projectionist with four years of experience at the time and was sent to fill in for an older projectionist who had to go deal with personal issues for a few days. I remember carrying some of my dad’s tools with me to the job in a Kroger sack. I told them “Don’t worry, I’ll only be here for a few days.”  Well, that was 35 years ago and the other guy’s never returned.  I’m pretty sure he’s not coming back.

The doors to the theatre were locked with chains when I arrived. I was told to knock loudly on the door and ask for Joe Patten. After banging the arcade door as loudly as I could, a young receptionist came over to unlock the door. I told her I was there to work with Joe Patten on the movie projectors, and she just turned around and yelled as loudly as she could towards the auditorium:  “JOE!!! …JOE PATTEN!!!”  (This was before they had walkie-talkies to communicate with.) After no one answered she said, “well, he’s probably backstage.  Just wander back there and see if you can find him.” (Ed: Joe served as The Fox’s technical director from 1974 to 2004. He was granted a lifetime rent free lease in the 1970s and still lives in an apartment at The Fox.)

Scott Hardin with the new digital projection system.

Is there a film you projected at The Fox that you think was terribly overrated? 

I think the film OLIVER [1968] was overrated because I wasn’t in it.

What about underrated?

THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2001) was terribly underrated.  How can you get more poignant than that?

One of the exciting films of this year’s Coca-Cola Film Festival is a new digital print of David Lean’s masterpiece LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. What can viewers expect out of this release?

They will see a beautiful rendition of the original negative of the 70mm film print, this time shown in Digital Cinema with no fading of color, no scratches, no splices, no interruptions of sound.  They can also expect camels.

Another film on the docket is the sing-a-long version of GREASE. Will you be singing along with the audience?

I’ll be sitting in a seat in the balcony using a remote volume fader to turn the sound levels up and down while following a script that has my sound cues in it.  I’ll be singing loudly at the same time too, except I’ll be singing “Where Is Love?”

Sing-a-Long Grease at Prince Charles Theatre, Leicester Square. Photo courtesy of Fox Theatre.

Before this weekend’s screenings, moviegoers can book special Movie Tours at The Fox. What’s your favorite “secret” place people will see on the tour?

My office door backstage that has my name and the word “Propmaster” above it.  It’s my secret, because even though I do double duty as the Props Department Head, I’m not really a “master” at it – I barely have a green belt – but if somebody paints “master” above your name, you have to keep up appearances.

Will you be in the projection room during the tours?

Yes, in all probability, along with my assistant Mike.

How has The Fox changed over your 35 years?

There have been so many changes it’s hard to enumerate them all. There’s a general trend in technology from analog to digital, and from simple to complex. I’ve also noticed people I’ve worked with for years gradually start to look older and wonder why I still look 28.

What do you think about the change in film from celluloid to digital? Is projection easier? More difficult?

Digital Cinema projection is easier because you don’t have to inspect and repair each frame of film by hand, and it looks and sounds great when everything works. However, you’re relying on computers to always work perfectly, which everyone knows is fraught with folly, and [that] will make it less reliable than film in the long run, in my opinion.

The original 1929 projectors at the Fox Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Fox Theatre.

Finally, which film have you projected the most? And how many times?

I have projected GONE WITH THE WIND on 11 different occasions in my 35 years at the Fox. One time in 1989 was for a 50th anniversary re-premiere with some of the surviving cast members on the stage. The most prominent was Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy. My friend Jeb Stewart, who was responsible for first sending me to the Fox, helped me project the movie that night.

This Weekend’s Movie Details:

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012); Dir. Quentin Tarantino; Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson; Friday, July 26 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

GREASE SING-A-LONG (1978); Dir. Randal Kleiser; Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing; Saturday, July 27 @ 7:30 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1963); Dir. David Lean; Starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn; Sunday, July 28 @ 4:00 PM; Fox Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

Gretchen Jacobsen is freelance producer, writer, costumer and film school graduate. She is also widely know by her Steampunk nom de internet, Wilhelmina Frame, and serves as the Editrix de Mode for the website Steampunk Chronicle.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rediscovering the Magic of the Fabulous Fox Theatre Through the Atlanta Preservation Center’s Walking Tour.

Posted on: Jun 19th, 2012 By:

This ornate lamp is just one of the 1000 magical design details in the Fox Theatre. Photo Credit: Jaclyn Cook.

By Lisa Stock
Contributing Writer

Can a building be a Kool Kat? If you know the Fabulous Fox Theatre as intimately as we do, we think you’ll say a resounding “yes!” After writing, directing and producing several fairy tale-inspired films (TITANIA, THE JULES VERNE PROJECT) and an unique experiential play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, we figured contributing writer Lisa Stock knows something about stage magic, so we asked her to take one of the Atlanta Preservation Center‘s walking tours and report back… 

As locals we’ve all been to the Fox Theatre, whether to see movies, concerts, or to show it off to visiting relatives. We love to sit under its starry sky and touch the wheel of the nautical ticket chomper as we enter. We drive past it every day, it’s always been there, and after almost losing it in the 1970s, we hope it always will be.

When I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Annenberg Collection had acquired Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows.” It was exceptional. I ran past it every day on my way from one office to another, directed tourists to its gallery, confirmed that—yes it had been sold for $53 million and went on my way. Until one day at lunch I went in the gallery and sat in front of it—for about an hour. One of the curators was there and told me its story: where it had been painted, at what point in Van Gogh’s life, that there were several other versions, but this one had not been seen for 100 years because it had been in private ownership. Its thousand words spoke out, and suddenly the painting took on a new life and a new appreciation for me.

The nautical ticket chomper at the Fox Theatre. Photo Credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Similarly, on a rainy Saturday morning at the end of January, I had the chance to hear the thousand words of the Fox Theatre. It is a masterpiece of its own, and has quite a tale (or 200) to tell. If you haven’t been on the tour yet—GO! They’re led by knowledgeable volunteers who give individualized tours depending on how they love the theater.

We were taken around by Vic Jester, who focused on the extraordinary architectural details of the building. He wove tales of gatherings, performances and parties, of eras gone by and a landmark rising up from the cold days of almost being closed forever. I was intrigued by the design of the theater influenced by the Taj Mahal and the 1920s discovery of King Tut’s tomb—all stemming from a contest by its original owners, the Shriners, to “Out Baghdad Baghdad.” As you walk through the Egyptian Ballroom and the Grand Salon, you feel like a character in CASABLANCA or expect to see Pepe Le Moko come around the corner. There are hidden repetitions in the Islamic art of the stained glass ceiling and opulent chairs in the Men’s and Ladies lounges (which were designed to emulate the room structure of a Middle Eastern harem). It’s not just the ancient epochs that greet you here, but the decades of the 20th century and its inhabitants, too. A door leads to the old infirmary where in case one felt faint, a nurse was onsite to care for you. Private telephone booths in the lounges are available to make personal calls. The Mighty Mo, a grand Moller organ rises up from the orchestra pit to lend music to the show.

You even learn about how the starry ceiling is created, from paint to lights—just in case you’d like to do that to your own house. There’s a lot to be noticed and appreciated on the walls and floors, too. Just about every inch of the Fox has a story behind it. Going to the theater used to be an experience, one you saved up for, dressed up for, and looked forward to for weeks. There are few of these atmosphere theaters still standing in America of this caliber—but how lucky we are to have one here in our very own city that is still hosting performances and films, and welcoming you like member of royalty.

The stained glass ceiling of the Fox Theatre's Grand Salon. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

This weekend there are several great Retro reasons to return to the Fox. Norah Jones will be jazzing it up on the Fox’s magnificent stage Saturday night June 17 Or sing-a-long with Julie Andrews and the Trapp Family children during a special screening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) at 2 p.m. on Sunday June 18 in The Fox Theatre’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival.  But to really get to know the history and tales of this wonderful local landmark for just $10, consider taking an Atlanta Preservation Center walking tour of the Fox or a historic Atlanta neighborhood such as Sweet Auburn, InmanPark and Grant Park.  While you’re there, keep an eye out for all the scarabs!

See more photos of the Fox Theater by photographer Jaclyn Cook, who took the shots included in this article, here.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Silent No More: Organist Ron Carter Restores the Music to Garbo’s FLESH AND THE DEVIL and More at Marietta’s Strand Theatre

Posted on: Aug 24th, 2011 By:

One might almost think it was the 1920s this week in Atlanta. This city is lucky to have two vintage movie palaces with mighty organs, and both are playing classic silent movies this week with live accompaniment. First at the Fabulous Fox on Thurs. Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m.  is THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), one of the final three features in this year’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. Then on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta presents FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926), a dramatic romantic gem fraught with passion and betrayal that stars Greta Garbo in her first appearance in an American movie.

And just a few weeks from now on Sun. Sept. 11 at 3 p.m., Callanwolde is going to be hosting PIPES ON PEACHTREE, a program by the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ACATOS) on Atlanta’s movie palaces of the 1920s, ‘30s and 40s, and their organs including Joe Patten, Atlanta’s “Phantom of the Fox”; noted organist technician and teacher John Tanner; and John Clark McCall, author of ATLANTA FOX ALBUM and other articles about Atlanta’s theatres. Highlights include a pictorial tour, playing of Callanwolde’s own 60-rank Aeolian residence pipe organ and the opportunity to tour the 1920s Gothic-Tudor mansion.

Inside The Earl Smith Strand Theatre. Photo courtesy of The Strand.

ATLRetro caught up with Ron Carter, who’ll be playing the Mighty Allen Theatre Organ at The Strand on Sun. for a sneak preview of all these upcoming events and why in the digital age, it’s still an amazing experience to see a movie in a vintage venue with live musical accompaniment. And frankly it gives us chills that Ron also be accompanying DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920), starring John Barrymore, on Oct. 30, at The Strand, closing out what has been a four-film silent series.

Let’s start with your take on what’s so special about seeing a classic movie at The Earl Smith Strand Theatre? Why should people in 2011 want to spend a summer Sunday afternoon watching a silent movie in a vintage cinema?

The Strand is a very unique venue. It was built in 1935 and at that time was the largest neighborhood movie theatre in the Atlanta metro area. Now it is the only neighborhood theatre in the Atlanta area which has been restored (I call it an adaptive restoration) to what it was originally intended to be and more! Our marquee is an exact replica (except for the state-of-the-art digital reader board) of the art deco one with real neon that was installed when the theatre opened in 1935 but then replaced with a “modern” one in 1964 during a remodeling by the Georgia Theatre Company. UGH—it was ugly!

Then when one walks into our outer art deco lobby and views the etched glass above our entrance doors, the ceramic tile floors and granite countertops, and the metal ceiling, you are transported back into a time when a theater was more than just four walls with some curtains hanging to cover up the cement block. Then you reach the inner lobby with its grand staircase, copper-painted ceiling, ornate chandelier and mosaic-covered lighting fixtures. All of this creates an expectation and wonder of what lies beyond the ornate auditorium doors! Samuel Rothafel (aka “Roxy”), who built the largest movie palace in the world in New York’s Times Square (over 6000 seats), had a famous quote. He said “The show starts on the sidewalk.” He felt that the building, the environment, the overall experience  was just as important to the patron as the show on the stage.

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