The Civic Theatre is celebrating its 75th anniversary and had open days all this weekend. I went along five years ago when it reopened after the massive restoration and I guess I was hoping for something better than that, but, oh no, I was disappointed.
Various rooms had displays set up with old photos and programmes on them, there was a video playing on one of the balconies, “The Mighty Civic” showing in the main auditorium, and an incomplete cabaret was performed in the Wintergarden. I was left wandering around all the rooms and corridors, looking at the all the elephants, tigers and golden decorations and wanting to know the stories behind them, but remaining uninformed.
The Civic historians seem obsessed with Freda Stark. It’s almost like the Civic Theatre served no other purpose than to host cabaret evenings where Ms Stark painted herself gold and danced for the GIs. A neatly sanitised golden lady was trotted out for this anniversary. The main difference being that at the end of the night she didn’t go off and smear her gold paint over some homesick soldiers. Of course, that side of things is much more glamourous than celebrating, say, the 2.30pm session of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie in 1990.
But it’s really disappointing that there is a noticeable gap in the history of the Civic. No one seems to care about the history of the theatre from its remodelling in 1975 until the restoration in the late ’90s. Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest thing to have that second Wintergarden theatre wedged inside the building, but it happened and it shouldn’t be forgotten. Ditto the all-over mud-brown paint job, and the succession of nightclubs in the basement.
I’ve also noticed that the since the restoration, the Civic doesn’t feel like an old building anymore. Everything inside is really nice and neat and new. Nothing creaks or smells musty. There are no dark corners any more where decades-old bits and pieces lurk. I remember once heading to some toilets off the side of the stalls. I got about halfway down this steep, dimly lit flight of stairs when I got the heebie jeebies and turned back. The Civic has no such spooky places any more.
The Civic needs to start going bump in the night again.