Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering John Hiltonsmith

John Hiltonsmith and his talents mean a lot to the Mid-South community, and we wanted to provide  a space for friends and fans to remember John. If you would like to contribute to this post, please leave a comment below.



He carefully replaced the broken piano string in my 1908 Steinway and told me that it was probably original, so worth preserving. John neatly bent it into a manageable size and placed it in my piano bench, along with his card noting the information. That was just a little over a year ago.

We had a dress rehearsal for our Lindenwood Christmas concert on December 6th that lasted until noon and John was there, since he was to be the sound technician for our December 7th concert. John and I talked for about 10 minutes after the rehearsal ended at noon and the conversation seemed important to me that day and stuck with me, although I couldn't say why.

I've known John for a long time and he helped me, as well as my family, many times. My son attended MUS and was fortunate to be a member of "Beg To Differ", so I knew John as his director, teacher, and mentor, as well as a fellow musician. I called on John frequently and asked if "Beg To Differ" would perform for various Symphony League events, as well as for Les Passees.  Each time John graciously agreed to perform at these events, contributing to help the organizations.  We also discussed silent auctions for the Orpheum and the Symphony League, to which he generously contributed.  He donated his time, his talent, and his services each and every time I asked.

On Saturday, December 6th, after a memorable conversation, John and I parted ways around 12:20pm.  We had things all lined out for the next day's concert and I just knew it would be a good one, especially with John's help.  Not even two hours later, I got a phone call saying that John was gone. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't today.
Suddenly I remembered the piano string and the note that John left for me in my piano bench.

That broken string, so carefully preserved by John, has taken on new meaning and importance to me since John died. It will forever remain in my piano bench, just where he meticulously put it, a dear remembrance of John. You never know when the small things will become significant. John, however, did seem to know, and I thank you, my dear friend.


-- Lura Turner, member of the Memphis Development Foundation Board of Directors


My most vivid memories of John are from high school at MUS in the '80s or with his girls getting ready for movies.

As education's VP the world has come full circle.

John popped his head inside my office (he'd been playing the organ for 10 year before I got here) and said, "Hey, Alice (knew my name), you went to Hutchison right?" "Nope St Agnes," said a sassy  26-year-old. "Mr. Hiltonsmith what are you doing here?" I'm going to play the organ for the movie,  let me introduce you to my girls....."

That day he became John - my world changed.
 
-- Alice Roberts, Vice President of Community & Education at the Orpheum

John Hiltonsmith and one of his singing groups, circa 1988.



I loved how cool it was to watch him come up and down from the pit playing the organ, and I loved that he always waved to the audience before descending.  The Summer Movie Series audiences LOVED watching and hearing him play – a lot of people came early to make sure that they got to see the famous organ. 

-- Christina Torres, Press Relations Manager at the Orpheum

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spotlight: DREAM CARVER Offers Masterful Puppetry, Encourages Creativity and Culture

Always striving for the new and wonderful, the Orpheum Family Series will - for the first time - present a bilingual musical, Dream Carver, on January 23rd.  Based on the children’s book of the same name written by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova, Dream Carver uses puppetry and original songs to tell the story of a small boy, Mateo, in Mexico who dreams of taking the family carving business to new creative heights.

Our Family Series always offers fun, engaging, and innovative productions that allow students and parents alike to discover the joy of learning through the arts.  Dream Carver is no exception!  This show is much more than a musical: it’s an opportunity for families to embrace creativity, immerse into a new culture, and experience masterful puppetry in action.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book, Mateo is growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico where father has taught him to carve small wooden toys in the traditional way.  One night, he dreams of fantastic, brightly colored animals that dance and sing, led by a charismatic quetzal (an iridescent bird).  When Mateo wakes up, he begins carving his dream animals into life – bigger, better, and brighter than the way his family has done for generations.  Through Mateo’s experience, audiences are encouraged to think creatively, try new things, and celebrate individuality. 

Creativity is one of those words that almost automatically lends itself to the arts.  While Mateo’s case is no different, creativity is much more than a unique drawing, writing a poem, or even carving an animal straight out of your imagination.  Creativity helps people find their way around unfamiliar problems.  It encourages one to look at the world with a different perspective – or even make a change in the world!  Being creative is an asset in just about any profession, and one great way to improve creative skills is to look beyond what something is and imagine what it could be.  Here, families get to join Mateo on his own creative journey.

Dream Carver offers a great way to introduce the entire family to a new language and a new culture.  Whether you and your family are trying to learn Spanish or are learning English as a second language, this show provides a fun-filled opportunity to practice basic vocabulary and discover Mexican traditions through the excitement of a live performance.

Dream Carver will also allow audiences to enjoy expert puppetry by Swazzle Productions, which offers talents akin to some of your favorite entertainment companies.  Haven’t heard of Swazzle?  You definitely know some of the names on their resume.  Swazzle puppeteers and designers have been trained by and worked with world-renowned groups like The Jim Henson Company, Muppets Studio, and The Walt Disney Company.  Wow!

Swazzle has created an entire world full of relatable characters brought to life by Broadway-trained puppeteers, colorful sets, and captivating music.  Dream Carver provides an unforgettable performance that will broaden horizons and encourage children to pursue their own creative passions with confidence. 


Dream Carver plays Friday, January 23rd, 2015 at 6:30 PM.  This show is recommended for ages 6 and up.  Tickets are $15 for regular admission or $25 for VIP.  Click here to learn more.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Win Tickets to Trace Adkins “The Christmas Show 2014” featuring Jason Crabb

 

Nothing puts you in the Yuletide spirit like classic carols, and that’s just what Trace Adkins will be offering at The Orpheum on Tuesday, December 16th… plus more!

In a recent interview, Trace describes “The Christmas Show” as “the most beautiful project I’ve ever been a part of.”  And beautiful it is.  This charismatic baritone will transform the Orpheum stage into a cozy living room decked in holiday cheer.  You’ll see stockings hung over the fireplace with care, a sparkling Christmas tree, and Trace will chat directly to the audience from a comfy leather chair. 

In addition to 11 memorable songs sung by Trace and several more performed by special guests and his 12-piece Sarepta Symphony, Trace will give the audiences heartwarming, historical and humorous anecdotes about the carols that we hold dear.  We’ll find out where they came from and the stories behind what makes them great. 

Not only that, the Memphis engagement is one of only a handful of performances that will feature celebrated musician Jason Crabb.  With his unmatchable voice, unparalleled charisma, GRAMMY nods and 21 Dove Awards aside, Jason is a rare breed with a powerful, emotive voice and talent that transcends industry labels.

Long story short, if “The Christmas Show” doesn’t take you to holiday heights, nothing will!  But don’t just take our word for it.  Check out these glowing interviews and reviews about the show:
 
"He opened with 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),' a choice that immediately showed off his rich baritone, which dipped to deep bass for the finish, and displayed surprisingly good delivery and phrasing." -- Lehigh Valley Music

"Adkins relied on two of his greatest instruments – his vocal range and his personality to deliver what could very well be his strongest stage production yet." -- Billboard


Trace Adkins “The Christmas Show 2014” plays at the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday, December 16 at 8:00 PM.  For tickets and more information, click here.

We're also giving away tickets to see the show! Use the form below to leave a comment and/or send a Tweet! You'll receive a chance to win for each way to enter. One lucky person will win a pair of tickets to Tuesday's performance!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

All entries will be put into one pool and one winner will be chosen at random for all entries received. Entries must be received by 11:59pm Wednesday, December 10, 2014. Winner will be notified by Thursday, December 11, at 5pm. Tickets will be available for pickup on the night of the show, Tuesday, December 16, 2014, at the Orpheum Theatre's Will Call window at 203 S. Main St., Memphis, TN 38103. Read the official rules here.

 

Monday, December 8, 2014

John Hiltonsmith, longtime organist and friend of the Orpheum, has passed away

John Hiltonsmith
John Hiltonsmith, longtime Orpheum house organist, volunteer and friend of the theatre, passed away at his home on Saturday, December 6, 2014.

For almost 30 years John donated his time and considerable talents to enhance everyone’s enjoyment of music.  He was the driving force behind the restoration efforts of The Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, countless hours spent repairing the various pipes and instruments and re-plastering  the vast chambers.   A skilled musician, John delighted audiences during the Orpheum’s summer movie series by ascending from the organ pit at the console of the historic organ, and bringing the majestic Wurlitzer to life.

Much as he cared for his instruments, he tended to and fostered love of music and the arts in his students at Memphis University School for 31 years.

John leaves behind his family, including Orpheum staff member Sherry Robinson, and daughters Jennifer and Julia. The theatre is grateful for the support of this gracious family, and all of our thoughts and prayers are with them.

John’s friendship will be deeply missed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Spotlight: Help us celebrate arts and education on #GivingTuesday

There’s a day for just about everything now: giving thanks on Thursday, fighting the crowds for Black Friday deals, shopping local on Small Business Saturday and surfing for savings on Cyber Monday – November has become a very busy month. 

But there’s one last day we’d like you to know about – #GivingTuesday. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, #GivingTuesday reminds us all to take a moment to celebrate generosity.

The Orpheum is a proud member of the Memphis nonprofit community, and over the past two years, the theatre has donated $62,000 in tickets and merchandise to 172 local nonprofit auctions. These contributions help our neighbors raise support for their own organizations, and help as many Mid-Southerners as possible enjoy our Broadway shows, concerts, Student Matinee Series, and other special events.

In just the last month, almost 15,000 students came to the theatre for Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Moses(es), and we’re now only about eight months away from the opening of our much-anticipated Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education. When you drive down Main Street, we hope you enjoy watching it grow as much as we do.

Without you, we wouldn’t be able to bring as much quality education and entertainment to the Mid-South. As you make your holiday shopping lists and get ready to close out the year, consider giving a gift to the entire community with a donation to help us offer more opportunities and preserve our 86-year-old theatre.

Here’s how you can support us:
  • Join the Member Circle or Club Level with an individual annual donation. You’ll not only have our gratitude, but you’ll enjoy all the perks of membership, including access to special events and recognition in Orpheum publications.
  • Make a contribution to the Capital Campaign. Your support is crucial to completing construction of the Centre for Performing Arts & Education. Every donation makes a difference as we prepare to open a state-of-the-art facility for classes, performances and community events.
  • Honor a loved one by making a donation in their name or purchasing a brick at the Centre’s plaza entry. No matter which option you choose, you’ll give a thoughtful and unique gift, with theatre perks or lifelong memories.

All donations made to the Orpheum are tax-deductible, and here’s how your giving helps:
  • Education and Community Programs: Donations to these programs provide support to 19 education programs impacting the lives of over 70,000 students and families annually. The theatre is committed to offering educational opportunities that use theatre to develop basic learning skills, discipline, teamwork, and self esteem, and to cultivate the whole person by developing intuition, reasoning, and creativity.
  • Entertainment Programming: By donating to the entertainment programming, you are guaranteeing better concerts, diverse Broadway shows, and spectacular special events. About 275,000 guests enjoy the theatre each year, from 327 zip codes throughout the U.S. as well as 15 countries.
  • Preservation of the Theatre: The gilded moldings, crystal chandeliers, and the everyday wear and tear on the theatre require constant maintenance. Please help us preserve the historic Orpheum for future generations.
  • The Future: Between our landmark theatre and the new 39,000-square-foot New Centre, the Orpheum has an amazing chance to bring more entertainment, education and community events to the Mid-South, and your donations guarantee that our celebrated and innovative initiatives continue for years to come.

No matter how you decide to give this year, we want you to know that your donation is greatly appreciated and that any gift, big or small, helps us to fully realize the Orpheum’s valuable mission.  Together, we can make this year’s #GivingTuesday the most impactful yet!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spotlight: Rain Can't Keep Our Racers' Spirits Down


There was an an abundance of creativity with the costume
contest. Photo by Frank Chin

Call it a miracle on Main and Beale, but on the dreary Sunday of our first 5K race, the skies cleared and gave our runners just enough time to complete a dry 3.1 miles in downtown Memphis.

Despite the gloom, 183 devoted racers came out for the inaugural Break-A-Leg 5K on November 23, the Orpheum’s first ever race. While the weather hindered some of the 349 registered participants from making it down to the theatre, we are thrilled so many people enjoyed the race and block party afterword. 

Kyle Grady crosses the finish line.
Photo by Frank Chin



Congratulations to Kyle Grady, who finished first overall with a time of 19:36.6, and second and third place Overall Male winners Robert Wilson and Preston Burks. Whitney Faust took the prize for Overall Female with a time of 23:49.8, followed by Rachel Capshaw and Kristin Mattei in second and third place, respectively. Click here to see a full list of winners. 

A huge thank you goes to out to Start2Finish Event Management for helping us coordinate such a terrific race. 

Though the block party had to be moved inside when the rain started again after the race, there was plenty of fun to be had in the lobby of the theatre. We loved the creativity in people’s costumes: leg lamps, elves, pink bunny pajamas, and more tinsel, funny hats and zany socks than you can probably imagine. 

Photo by Frank Chin
Another big thanks to Hard Rock Café for providing excellent food for our hungry runners and for having singer/guitarist Chris Johnson entertain our guests.

The proceeds from the 5K will benefit our education and community programs. Thanks for helping us raise awareness and for such an incredible inaugural 5K. We’re already planning next year’s race, so stay tuned for a new date and theme.

Check out photos from the race and the block party online. See one of you? Download it or tag yourself!
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Monday, November 24, 2014

Spotlight: One-Man Show Goes From Orpheum to Off-Broadway



What began as a drive down Main Street turned into a journey to New York for Phil Darius Wallace.

As a writer, producer, director and actor, Darius has been a longtime friend of the Orpheum, working with us on summer camps, workshops and past programs with Memphis City Schools. In 2012 he was hoping to restage his one-man show about civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass when a chance drive past the theatre prompted him to call Alice Roberts, our Vice President of Community and Education.

“What we both found was that my show was a perfect fit for the Orpheum at that time,” Darius says. “I was thrilled. The whole theater showed me amazing respect, service and love. They really made me feel like family. I pinched myself many times to see if I was dreaming.”

Darius frequently called on Alice for advice as he had crafted a 60-minute children’s show about the famed orator for Voices of the South, and together Alice and Darius worked to turn the production into 90-minute show for audiences age pre-teen and up. Darius says he and the Orpheum education staff made several test runs until finding the right version to present publicly.

Self-Made Man: TheFrederick Douglass Story emerged from their work, in which Darius portrays 14 characters who influenced Douglass’ life and encouraged the former slave to inspire President Abraham Lincoln and countless others to fight for the end of slavery and support equality for all people. The production includes music, dancing, singing, monologues and poetry.

The show’s most powerful message is how education completely transformed Douglass’ life.  To enhance this lesson for local students, the theatre produced a show-specific study guide, handled all of the press and invited fourth-graders through high school seniors to experience it. Two former students in the education program, Shawna Gardner and Travis Blackwell, also helped to make the show a success by getting involved with the rehearsal process and stage management.

The resulting production was so popular with Orpheum audiences that two additional performances were added.  In the end, 5,655 students and patrons saw the production during its four-performance run Nov. 18-21, 2013.

Phil Darius Wallace
One of those audience members was Melania Levitsky, founder of Nikita Productions and the Associate Artistic Director for Walking the dog Theater, who called Darius two months later and asked to reproduce the show at the ArcLight Theatre in New York City. After some rewriting, a new budget and about 30 hours of weekly rehearsal, Self-Made Man opened its off-Broadway run on November 18, 2014 – exactly one year after performances started at the Orpheum.

The script is the most distinct change between the Orpheum show and what audiences will see in New York. Darius says the scene order was tweaked and the dialogue was made more communal and conversational to better fit the smaller ArcLight.

 “It is a 99-seat theater and gives me a chance to play with the audience through improv as some of the characters, and share very intimate moments as Douglass,” Darius says.

Self-Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story plays through December 14, 2014 at the ArchLight Theatre. Get more information about the show, and our talented friend Darius, online at frederickdouglassplay.com.

“I am so thankful to Alice and the Orpheum,” Darius says. “I am also thankful to Melania and Nikita Productions for believing in me, challenging me and helping me to be a better actor!”