Tag Archives: Theater

Second Star to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning!

Our next event is sure to bring out all of the spooks and ghouls – Saturday, October 25 is All Hallow’s Eve at Midway Village! This year, J.M. Barrie’s classic characters in Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up come to life in our haunted woods!

The stage play was first performed on December 27, 1904 at Duke of York’s Theatre in London. Nina Boucicault was first cast to play Peter Pan, and Maude Adams famously played the impish boy in the 1905 Broadway production. This tradition of an adult woman starring as Peter has continued for over one hundred years. The play introduced its audiences to the name ‘Wendy,’ as well as to children’s literature which was still in its infancy.

Peter Pan’s adventures in Never Land take us back to our childhood fantasies of pirates, mermaids, Indians, and fairies. Over time, these figures have evolved in their meaning and place within our culture.  Today, many recognize Peter Pan as the red-headed boy in the 1953 Disney animated film. Fairies are also associated with Disney-inspired design, although Tinker Bell was first represented as a flash of light and tinkle of a bell.  What kinds of ephemera would people have associated with the characters of Peter Pan one hundred years ago? How were fairies, pirates, and Native Americans depicted?

This 1870s teddy bear is much like the one Michael carries to Never Land.

This 1870s teddy bear is much like the one Michael carries to Never Land.

This Rockford-made collapsible top hat is similar to what John wears as he pretends to be his father. “A little less noise there!"

This Rockford-made collapsible top hat is similar to what John wears as he pretends to be his father.
“A little less noise there!”

This thimble is representative of the kiss that Wendy tries to give Peter. Thimbles are a must in any good sewing kit, especially at a time when most people made their own clothes.

This thimble is representative of the kiss that Wendy tries to give Peter. Thimbles are a must in any good sewing kit, especially at a time when most people made their own clothes.

This charming book may have been a favorite bedtime story for a child who loved whimsical tales. Published in 1903, it tells the story of a star fairy prince who falls in love with a princess on Earth.

This charming book may have been a favorite bedtime story for a child who loved whimsical tales. Published in 1903, it tells the story of a star fairy prince who falls in love with a princess on Earth.

Fairy Wings c. 1920s-30s

 

This handmade fairy costume, complete with wings, may have been a little girl’s Halloween costume or, more likely, costume for a play or recital in the 1920s-1930s.

This handmade fairy costume, complete with wings, may have been a little girl’s Halloween costume or, more likely, costume for a play or recital in the 1920s-1930s.

For the adventurous, only a pirate book will do! G.A. Henty’s historical fiction Among Malay Pirates, published in 1899, contains short stories set in Malaysia and Indonesia. During a time when travel was limited to the wealthy, this book could take any person across the seas and among the pirates!

For the adventurous, only a pirate book will do! G.A. Henty’s historical fiction Among Malay Pirates, published in 1899, contains short stories set in Malaysia and Indonesia. During a time when travel was limited to the wealthy, this book could take any person across the seas and among the pirates!

Children dressed as Native Americans during Rockford parade, c. 1905.

Children dressed as Native Americans during Rockford parade, c. 1905.

Child’s colorful, handmade headdress.

Child’s colorful, handmade headdress.

What of the crocodile, who took Captain Hook’s hand? Well, he’s become a pair of lady’s pumps. Made in Rockford in the 1960s. (Not real crocodile!)

What of the crocodile, who took Captain Hook’s hand? Well, he’s become a pair of lady’s pumps.
Made in Rockford in the 1960s. (Not real crocodile!)

 

All Hallow’s Eve at Midway Village Museum, 2014

Sat. October 25  2pm – 8pm

Admission: $6 for adults and children. Museum members and children under 3 are free!

Bring your family to “trick-or-treat” in safety at the charming Victorian Village.  Additional children’s activities and crafts will also be offered throughout the day.  The Woods opens at 4:30 pm.

All Hallow's Eve

 

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The Swedish Can Really “Break a Leg”

Hjalmar FryxellIn the days before Netflix, television, radio, and moving pictures, the theater was the place to go for entertainment.  The Swedish Theater of Rockford was born from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1911 when Hjalmar Fryxell (left) and J. Herman Hallstrom, who later became mayor of Rockford, formed the group.  Carl Bruce, who had previously acted with a traveling theatrical company in Minnesota, joined the theatrical group early on.  Bruce acted and created the sets.  Fryxell wrote a few plays as well as yearly revues of Swedish Rockford performed by the players.

Carl Bruce as Sven pa Lappen

Carl Bruce in his Sven pa Lappen (Sven on the Patch) persona.  He performed comic monologues as Sven in Swedish communities and organizations throughout Northern Illinois.

Carl Bruce Accordian

Carl Bruce played this M. Honer accordion as part of his Sven persona.

Carl BruceCarl (left) was born in Sweden on July 19, 1887.  He immigrated in 1903 and became a naturalized citizen in 1916.  He married Wilma Peterson around this time, who was an actress in the Swedish Theater.

Wilma Peterson BruceBorn in Rockford to Swedish immigrants, Wilma (right) worked at the National Lock Factory as a Fore Lady who supervised a department of young Swedish women.  Carl worked at National Lock as a machinist.  Wilma passed away in 1933.

Gunnar Edstrom

Gunnar Edstrom (left) and Carl Bruce put on acts together from the late 1920s to the 1950s.

Actress Alma Nelson (below) helped her husband, Albin, operate Nelson’s Home Bakery at 7th Street and 5th avenue.Alma Nelson

Swedish Theater

Group photo of the Swedish Theater of Rockford players performing as Swedish immigrants.  Carl Bruce is seated with his accordion that he used as Sven pa Lappen.

Swedish Theater Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Carl Bruce

Scene from a production.  Carl Bruce is on the right.

Swedish Theater Group Rockford

Scene from a production. Carl Bruce is second from the right.

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce

Al Goranson, Gunnar Edstrom, Carl Bruce, 1937

Swedish Theater Group of Rockford

Group photo of Swedish Theater of Rockford players.  Wilma and Carl Bruce are at the far left, Hjalmer Fryxell is third from right, and Alma Nelson is at the far right.

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West!

William F. Cody was born in Iowa in 1846.  When he was just a boy, his father moved the family to Kansas, settling near Fort Leavenworth.  Cody was naturally skilled in shooting and riding, and at the age of 14, became a renowned pony express rider, a dangerous occupation on the plains.  The advertisement called for “skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily.”   Clearly not one to be left out of the excitement, he served as a Union scout during the Civil War as part of the Seventh Kansas Calvary.  Cody continued to serve the Army after the war as a scout and dispatch rider.

In 1867, Cody began hunting buffalo to feed the Kansas Pacific Railroad workers.  In seventeen months, he had killed 4,280 buffalo.  It is believed that he took up a contest with William Comstock to see who could kill more buffalo in eight hours.  With Cody’s 69 to Comstock’s 46, Cody earned the nickname Buffalo Bill.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Program, 1893

His reputation as Buffalo Bill grew into that of a national folk hero.  Ned Buntline’s dime novels featured Buffalo Bill along the ranks of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.  In 1872, Buntline even persuaded Cody to appear in his play The Scouts of the Plains, which was a great success thanks in part to Cody’s natural showmanship.  Riding on this achievement, Cody organized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883.  The show dramatized frontier life with buffalo hunts, Indian attacks, the Pony Express, and a presentation of Custer’s Last Stand.  His show featured stars such as Annie Oakley, Buck Taylor, and, for one season, Chief Sitting Bull, the “slayer of Custer.”  He added the Congress of Rough Riders of the World that featured cavalrymen around the world, including Mexico, Russia, and Syria.  The show toured for thirty years, even travelling to Europe.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show pulling into Rockford, July 26, 1901

 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show even made it to Rockford in 1901!  The show then returned for Rockford’s Chautauqua events, the first of which was held in August 1902 at Harlem Park.  The Chautauqua was advertised as a place of learning for adults: “A School for Out-of-School People.”  It was a two-week long event that offered lectures on cultural and political topics, women’s topics, and global topics with speakers from all over the country.  Musical performances could be heard, including music from the Third Regiment Band every evening.  Kindergarten classes were taught for younger children, as well as art, cooking, and elocution classes for adults.  Sundays offered church services and Sunday School.  And of course, Buffalo Bill and his Congress of Rough Riders were there to thrill and impress the crowds.

Upcoming Event!!

See for yourself Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show featuring Annie Oakley at Midway Village’s 1900 American Chautauqua! 

June 9 & 10, 2012

  • Meet Theodore Roosevelt as portrayed by nationally known Joe Weigand as he campaigns for the 1900 Republican Party ticket.
  • Chat with Mark Twain and meet famous Americans Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley
  • Thrill to demonstrations of sharp shooting, trick riding and Native American Indian demonstrations at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World on the Midway Village Green with two shows on Saturday (12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and one on Sunday (2:30 p.m.) along with a wide variety of other popular activities, presentations and entertainments of the times.
  • The 1900 America event will include live period music featuring Mark Dvorak on Saturday and Rockford’s own Betsy Kaske both days in the Midway Village church.
  • Experience Dr. Balthasar’s Miracle Medicine Shows
  • Visit and learn from re-enactors depicting Spanish-American/Philippine War soldiers’ encampment
  • Rockford’s Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Veterans
  • View demonstrations of antique high-wheel bicycles by the Illinois Wheelmen and Wisconsin Wheelmen and horse drawn wagon rides.
  • Participate in classes in the art of 19th century military sabre and pugilism taught by Allen Reed, Headmaster of Gallowglass Academy and Professor of Antagonistics, Leaf River, Illinois.

For more details and admission prices, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=4

 

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Curtain Call

Rockford VaudevilleToday, movies are a popular form of entertainment.  Not only are theaters becoming bigger and better, the movies themselves are pumped up with better sound, graphics, and special effects.  It makes us wonder where technology will take us next.

But what about life before movies on the big screen?  People over 130 years ago knew where to get entertainment, and where they themselves could become celebrities – vaudeville.

Rockford VaudevilleVaudeville’s roots lie in the 1850s as variety acts strictly for male audiences.  It’s no surprise then that these acts mostly consisted of comedies, which were known for bordering on obscene.  In 1881, Tony Pastor, a performer from New York, created a variety show for families.  By inviting a larger audience, Pastor found that he could make more money.  During vaudeville’s heyday between 1880 and the 1920s, these performances were the most popular form of entertainment and were an integral part of every community.  Vaudeville was a symbol of cultural diversity because it was the first to cross racial and class boundaries.

Rockford Vaudeville

A typical show consisted of 12 or more acts lasting over a period of hours.  The acts consisted of both talent and quirkiness, including pianists, contortionists, dancers, tumblers, and animal acts, but most of the shows were based on comedy.  Many acts were made up of families who traveled around the country to perform at different venues.

Rockford’s Orpheum, Palace, and Palm Theaters were all home to many vaudeville performers.  Acts that came and performed included celebrities such as Harry Houdini, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Olsen and Johnson, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

The Orpheum Theater

The Orpheum Theater was located at 118 North Main St.  It was part of the Orpheum Circuit, a chain of theaters across the country.  Its first theater opened in San Francisco in 1886.  The Orpheum Circuit ran until 1927.  During the 1930s, the Orpheum was used as a movie house.

The Palace Theater was located at 113-115 North Main St., very close to the Orpheum Theater.  It opened on February 22, 1915 as part of the Junior Orpheum Circuit.  During the 1930s, it too was used as a movie house.  In 1957, four years after Rockford got its first television stations, WTVO and WREX, it was dismantled and replaced with Woolworth’s Department Store.  Some of the scenery and lighting were acquired for use at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant.

The Palace Theater

The Palace Theater ad

The Palm Theater was located at 105 West State St.  It closed around 1929.

The Palm Theater

The Palm Theater ad

The arrival of radio and silent movies in the 1920s began to replace vaudeville.  Instead of a dozen or more acts, five acts would perform before the movies were shown, or sometimes in between shows.  By the 1930s, these theaters became strictly movie houses, and saw no more live performances.

Tonight we can turn on the television and watch late night shows with hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Craig Ferguson.  Preceding these late night stars were, of course, Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show of the 1960s-1990s and The Ed Sullivan Show of the 1940s.  These comedy-oriented variety shows are modern examples of old time vaudeville.

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