Two entertaining venues on Main Street in Merced caught my attention on a spring-time Sunday afternoon.
The first was Playhouse Merced’s production of Urinetown, The Musical. My wife and I generally take in one or two shows during the Playhouse season. I’m glad this was one of them. The show grabbed a lot of attention, as well as a few Tony awards, when it debuted on Broadway a few years ago. Merced’s receptive audiences enjoyed the show.
I found myself becoming more and more amazed at how the Playhouse productions continue to get more sophisticated. Each production seems to raise the bar on what the local theater group can do in staging, set design, and performance.
The Merced Theatre Foundation
Following the show, we headed down Main Street to the Merced Theatre. The Merced Theatre Foundation was holding an open house to celebrate the first anniversary of the restored venue. For the first time, we were able to walk all over the place.
Our backstage pass was a community wide invitation to stop in during the three-hour Sunday afternoon window.
We were allowed to view many areas of the theater that the public ordinarily does not get a chance to see. With Foundation members sprinkled all over the place to answer questions and give us directions, we took the self-guided tour.
We entered through the main entrance underneath the marquee. The smell of popcorn set just the right mood for touring a movie theater.
Spanish style balcony
Our first task upon entering was to head up the stairs to the balcony. The Spanish style wall décor reminds you of the days when movie theaters were not cookie cutter stark boxes near shopping centers.
The balcony was where I took a picture of my wife sitting in one of the chairs along the sides of the structure. The view up there is impressive. While you’re not looking straight-on at the stage, the vantage point puts you well above the action.
Next, the two of us headed to the stage where we could see the audience from the perspective of a performer. The house lights that illuminated the audience seating may not have been the same as a spotlight shining in the eyes of a performer, but it was still a treat to be on stage.
The wings of the stage are reminiscent of the wings of any high school auditorium stage. There was even a spiral stairway that could take a stagehand all the way to the ceiling if the production called for that task. The spiral stairway was not open to the public.
A Theatre volunteer told us how to go downstairs to the green room and the dressing rooms where the performers get ready for a performance. The green room (the name goes back to theater legend, but this room was actually painted beige) is where a performer who isn’t needed at a particular time during the performance waits until he or she is needed on stage.
There are two dressing rooms; each with a glittery star on door. Both dressing rooms had bathrooms and showers. You can imagine the performers nervously awaiting their call to come upstairs to the wings of the stage.
There’s a video camera shooting the stage, and the video feed is wired to the green room area.
Our back stage tour of the Merced Theatre, coupled with an entertaining musical at Playhouse Merced, made for a fun Sunday afternoon in our city. If you haven’t been to either yet, resolve to do that before the year is out.
If you haven’t been to either in a while, make plans to visit one or both in the near future.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced