First it was the red seats, replaced with chocolate-hued replicas of the 1926 originals. Then it was the threadbare red carpet, now gone in favor of a bold pattern recreated from opening night photos. And finally, on Friday, Tampa Theatre’s 40-year-old red stage curtain closed for the last time and was replaced with a peacock blue, pin-striped grand drape and a new, hand-painted valance. Yesterday, the red side drapes were likewise replaced with their cerulean counterparts.
Tampa Theatre’s architect, John Eberson, wrote back in the ‘20s that he considered red a “bad luck color” with which to decorate a theater. So those red seats, carpets and drapes – while a functional choice when the city rescued and reopened the building in 1976 – were never Eberson’s vision. Forty years later, part of this $6 million first phase of restoration, the artists from EverGreene Architectural Arts and iWeiss Theatrical Solutions were able to replicate the original striped drape and take inspiration from a 1926 set piece built into the proscenium arch to create the bold new valance.
But rather than scrap the well-worn red curtains, Tampa Theatre was happy to donate the old fabric and have that little piece of history live on in Tampa’s artistic community.
The narrow valance that ran across the top of the proscenium has been donated to visual artist Rebekah Lazaridis, who will create a large-scale painting on the fabric for an art installation at Studio620 in downtown St. Pete in October. “[The paintings] serve as moveable murals that create a theatrical space and bridge the gap between the theatre world and the visual art world,” Lazaridis says. When complete, the 3000 sq ft gallery space will be filled with painted curtains donated by RoseBrand, StageWorks, American Stage, the Straz Center and Tampa Theatre. The artist is also working with professional lighting designers and dancers to incorporate movement into the installation. “My main goal as a visual artist is to reimagine stories for discarded theatrical scenery in hopes of creating new imaginative and interactive spaces. I’m so grateful to have these beautiful curtains as they seem to carry the memories of the spaces they adorned into my work,” Lazaridis says.
The main curtains have been donated to Riverview High School’s award-winning Theatre program. According to Theatre Director Casey Vaughan, her students have several uses for the contribution in mind, including a cameo in their February production of A Chorus Line and as baffles to improve the sound in their auditorium. “Honestly, what I’m most excited about is that this amount of quality fabric would otherwise have been financially unattainable for us for a very long time,” Vaughan says. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to use it to improve the quality of our space overall, whether as stage curtains or repurposing to improve the sound in a space that was not built with microphones in mind.
We’re so grateful to the Tampa Theater for this donation and for supporting tomorrow’s artists.”
Tampa Theatre, a 501c3 nonprofit arts organization, is less than $42,000 away from its $6 million fundraising goal for this first phase of restoration. Work is expected to continue through the first quarter as the national historic landmark next installs a new emergency generator and new plate glass storefront windows along Florida Avenue.