Vintage theater copes with ropes
Tribe’s grant will help replace aged rigging
COOS BAY – The terrace fell on a Wednesday in August.
Paul Quarino knows it was a Wednesday, because the Egyptian Theatre had been open for Farmers Market. A visiting couple asked to see the Wurlitzer organ, and Quarino, the theater’s organist, took the pair backstage for a personal tour.
Eager to display the Egyptian’s historic charms, he began lowering part of a hand-painted backdrop – one depicting a Mediterranean terrace and forest scene. That was when a decades-old hemp rope snapped.
Quarino remembers thinking, “That thing is coming down, and I don’t have control of it.”
Quarino insists the next few moments were not dramatic, though they sound dramatic enough. When the rope gave way, so did a wooden support known as a batten. The heavy canvas mural, now hanging by a single rope, “slithered” to the floor.
No one was hurt, but the ancient hemp could be trusted no longer. The Egyptian’s famed backdrops would be out of commission until further notice.
A year and a half later, Quarino and other members of the Egyptian’s board are looking forward to putting those historic scenes in the public eye once again. A $5,000 grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund provides key funding for a project to rejuvenate the theater’s overhead rigging.
“The Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association is keeping a piece of history alive, and we are thrilled to help with that,” said Tribal member Jackie Chambers, who coordinates the Tribal Fund. “I remember going to the theater as a little kid. I was always in awe. When I take my children there, they have that same look on their faces that I did when I was their age.”
Most of the Egyptian’s backdrops date to 1925, when they were painted in Portland and shipped to what was then Marshfield. Along with the terrace scene, they show a Nile River scene, a temple and a forest. A fifth backdrop, depicting Mount Hood, is newer.
Kara Long, the theater’s executive director, calls the canvases iconic.
“Nobody in the world has these backdrops,” she said. “Nobody. They’re in original shape, too. They’re gorgeous.”
Restoring the backdrops to working order means replacing the old hemp ropes with durable nylon. Safety-rated materials will replace some dubious hardware. Steel cables of unknown vintage will make their exit as well.
The labor will be donated. An Egyptian board member, formally trained in technical theater, will lead a gang of volunteers. Long estimates the job will take three months.
The Tribe is awarded a total of 57 grants for 2018 in six categories: arts and culture, education, environment, historic preservation, health, and public safety. This year’s $291,000 in grants raises the fund’s total to more than $6.1 million since 2001, all supported by revenue from The Mill Casino.
Once the backdrops are in place, Long and her board have a busy agenda of additional improvements. They plan to level the sagging stage and rewire the sound system. They also want to relocate the mechanical controls to an overhead platform, freeing the stage’s “wings” for performers to come and go safely.
Fundraising for restoration is ongoing.
Want to help?
Coos Bay’s Egyptian Theater Preservation Association is always looking for grants, private donations and volunteers. Contact Executive Director Kara Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Coquille Tribal Community Fund
2018 Historic Preservation Grants
|Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association||$5,000|
|Bandon Historical Society Museum||$2,250|
|Curry Historical Society||$3,000|
|Coquille Tribal Community Fund
2018 Education Grants
|Coos County Historical Society||$5,000|
|Coos County S.T.E.P. Commission||$10,000|
|Madison Elementary School||$5,828|
|Boys & Girls Club of Southwestern Oregon||$2,500|
|South Coast Family Harbor||$20,000|
|S.A.F.E. Haven Recovery||$6,000|
|Coos Bay Area Zonta Service Foundation||$5,000|
|North Bend School Foundation||$5,000|
|Oregon Children’s Foundation dba SMART||$5,000|
|Women’s Safety and Resource Center||$5,000|
|Powers Friends of the Library Foundation||$3,000|
|Oregon Museum of Science and Industry||$2,500|
|Bandon School District||$2,000|
|Friends Inspiring Reading Success Together||$2,000|