States Theatre Center for the Arts of Lehigh Valley
Video released on: January 18, 2010
Tracey Werner: Welcome to this edition of Lehigh Valley Visions, a video podcast highlighting area attractions. I’m your host, Tracey Warner.
Today we’re taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Downtown Easton. During its nearly 100-year history, this facility has seen everything from Vaudeville performances and films to standup comedians and even rock concerts. Our host for today’s tour will be Shelley Brown, President and CEO of the State Theatre. Let’s get started.
Shelley, the State Theatre is an amazing facility with a great history. Tell us about it.
Shelley Brown: Thank you. It’s a beautiful building and never disappoints when people walk in the door, they just are awestruck at the beauty of this theatre. It began as a bank before the turn of the century. The inner and outer lobbies were where the bank was, and then the theatre was added onto the back.
It’s been a live performance theatre. It’s been a Vaudeville theatre. It’s been a movie palace, no posts, no obstructions, perfect acoustics, and then of course, a live performing theatre. Again, I mean it’s been lovingly restored in 1990, and we think it’s just a magnificent place to see a show.
Tracey Werner: Well, I understand that there is one lover of this theatre who has never really left. It’s Fred, your resident ghost.
Shelley Brown: Every respectable old theatre has a ghost. In fact, we have a light that we keep burning all the time on stage, and if you see that when you walk into an old theatre, it’s called the “ghost light” for that very reason. It’s J. Fred Osterstock, who was the manager of the chain that owned this theatre years ago. He was devoted to the theatre. In fact, he even lived here for a little bit, not very long.
But when the river flooded and he couldn’t get home in the great flood, he did not pass in any sort of traumatic fashion, but when he did, he decided to stay here, and we’re happy to have him. And fact, he even has his own box. Would you like to see that?
Tracey Werner: Oh, yeah, please! Let’s go there next.
Shelley Brown: Okay.
And here we are. This is one of our two boxes. This is the one that we call Fred box. As you can see, a very prestigious seat. It’s great to be seen. Everyone in the theatre can see you. It’s very royal. You know, you can sit up here and be important. But this is ironically where I actually saw Fred. In fact, I believe it was this seat that he was sitting in.
Tracey Werner: Well tell us about that. I want to know more.
Shelley Brown: Well, I was out in the lobby, and the building was locked and dark, and I was walking by the door, and I saw someone sitting here kind of looking at the stage like this. And I backed up and thought, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! There’s not supposed to be anybody in the theatre.” I came all the way down the aisle and all the way up these stairs saying, “Excuse me. Excuse me, sir,” and got up here, and there was nobody here. And I thought, “I know him from somewhere. I know him. Who was that? I know that guy!” And then, “Oh!” It was Fred. So it was clearly Fred.
Tracey Werner: And so you named your Annual Spring Awards Ceremony after Fred.
Shelley Brown: Absolutely. We have a program which we call the Freddy Awards, which honors excellence in high-school musical theatre every spring. And students come from three counties, Lehigh, Northampton, and Warren County, New Jersey. If their high school does a musical, they can participate with us. And it culminates in a big, flashy awards show performance evening. And it’s wonderful. The kids are so talented, and it’s really an appropriate honor for Fred that we named it the Freddy Awards.
Tracey Werner: I understand the opening number when all the students are on stage at the same time is just amazing.
Shelley Brown: It’s dazzling. It’s dazzling. And even after six years, we all still cry when we see it happen, because it’s magic.
Tracey Werner: Shelley, I’d also like to see the State Theatre’s dressing room. I understand that the different celebrities who are getting ready in there before they go on stage autograph the walls.
Shelley Brown: We have one dressing room, the star dressing room, where they leave their mark. Let’s put it that way. Would you like to see?
Tracey Werner: Yes, please!
Shelley Brown: Okay.
Tracey Werner: It’s really amazing, all the different autographs and dedications on the walls. How did you start that tradition?
Shelley Brown: The dressing rooms are really old. They were not renovated, and they’re pretty humble. And so we just tried to distract people, started asking them to sign the wall. And it just became such a tradition and such a funky room that the artists love it, and we love it. Everybody signs the walls, from Ringo Starr, to the Smothers Brothers, to the Everly Brothers. Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall write messages to each other on our wall at different times when they appear here. The Broadway cast does. Anybody who’s anybody has signed our walls.
Tracey Werner: I think it’s important to also mention there’s so much more here than just the theatre. You also have an art gallery and a ballroom. Can we check them out next?
Shelley Brown: Certainly! Let’s go!
Tracey Werner: So here we are in the Acopian ballroom, and this is really a great facility. I understand you can do all kinds of different events here.
Shelley Brown: It’s a wonderful room. We use it for everything from concerts to shows. We do late night catechism, for example, up here. And we have parties, wedding receptions, we rent the room. It’s a very versatile space, and it was donated by the Acopian family. We use it all the time.
Tracey Werner: I understand that this room also has a great history, much like the theatre does.
Shelley Brown: It does. It does. This used to be a dance studio called the Nardi Dance Studio. I always say if you’re over the age of 40, you probably learned to ballroom dance right in this room. Because it was very famous, and it was back when people did that. So we love it, and we use it all the time. But this is a very ornate space. We have a very contemporary space, which is our gallery. Would you like to see that?
Tracey Werner: Yes, please!
Shelley Brown: Come on, let’s go.
Tracey Werner: Well, the gallery space here on your first floor is a bright, contemporary space. When was it added?
Shelley Brown: The space was actually acquired in the 1980s. This building was a supermarket. It was called The Best Market, so we call it the Best Market Building or The Gallery. We use it for parties. We use it for art openings. We’ve actually done some performance here, concerts. We’ve had dancing lessons here in this building. But right now, it is a fully functioning art gallery with exhibits that change about four times a year.
Tracey Werner: Well, here we are at the end of our tour, Shelley, and the beautiful lobby at the state theatre. Thank you so much for taking the time to show us around today.
Shelley Brown: Well, thank you. Come back anytime.
Tracey Werner: Thank you! I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s tour of the State Theatre in Downtown Easton, and that you’ll want to come see a show very soon. For a complete list of this season’s performances, visit statetheatre.org. For a list of all of the Lehigh Valley’s arts and entertainment venues, visit LehighValleyPA.org. Thanks for joining me for this edition of Lehigh Valley Visions.