As the Gaillard Auditorium’s 44 years of performances comes to a pause, staff members of the theater took a glimpse back into their own histories to reminisce about some of the highlights of the building.
Over the years, uses for the Gaillard have ranged from funerals to weddings, church services to circuses. The events held in the building have allowed the Gaillard staff exposure to performers and shows otherwise inaccessible.
Several of the staffers at Gaillard can recall these early performances because they have been working at the building for over 20 years.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” said Cam Patterson, executive director of the Gaillard for 21 years.
Another long-time Gaillard staffer considered what she has witnessed.
“I’ve had exposure to a lot of things that would have never happened if I wasn’t here,” said Linda Jenkins, a maintenance worker with 24 years of service at Gaillard.
While Isaac Washington, a maintenance worker who began his tenure at Gaillard in the parking garage 36 years ago, has listened in on dozens of performances ranging from Prince to Pavorotti, one show in particular stands out as his favorite: Riverdance.
“I sat through all 8 (shows) of them,” Washington said.
Access to performers backstage has given the staff a glimpse at the personalities behind the shows. Patterson recalled the kindness of Jeff Foxworthy, who went above and beyond a hospitalized fan’s request for an autograph by delivering tickets to an upcoming performance to the fan in-person.
Another time, Washington was standing in front of the building waiting for Yo-Yo Ma to arrive for a performance, only to find the famed cellist arriving in an unusual manner.
“He arrives in a yellow cab with his cello,” said Washington, who chauffeured performers around in his Lincoln before limousine service becoming available in Charleston. “Then he says, ‘Ya’ll waiting for someone?’?”
Not every event went according to plan. Patterson recalled a show where the ticketing system went down. Staff had to print paper tickets for all 2,726 seats for every show, and a call center was set up in the administrative offices to respond to ticket requests late into the night.
“I said when I died I was going to have to sell tickets,” said Patterson.
In another incident, the building’s single elevator went on the fritz as patrons arrived for a performance. To ensure that mobility-impaired patrons could get to and from their second-floor seats, Washington had to manually work the electronic call box for the duration of the show.
“It’s been a burden having only one elevator. We’ve had some hairy things with the elevator,” said Patterson.
This elevator also is the subject of ghost speculation. Maintenance and administrative staff reported seeing the elevator appear without being called.
Patterson recalled arriving to the Gaillard early one morning to see the elevator doors open, then close mysteriously.
“I said, you go ahead and go upstairs, I’ll go in my office,” Patterson said.
While the staff unanimously agrees that the building holds many fond memories, they also look forward to the renovations.
Matt Williams, who has been the properties master for the Spoleto Festival USA for 20 years, said he looked forward to a larger, more accessible backstage area.
He recalled an especially large set that was shipped in from Venice. “We had to take Act I completely out of the building. The same for Act II,” said Williams. “It was insane.”
While the new design aims to alleviate many of these headaches, the staff still feels a touch of melancholy at the Gaillard’s temporary closure.
“It’s sad to leave the building because we’ve all been here,” said Patterson. “But it’s time.”
Sarah DeSantis is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.
Friday night’s Spoleto Festival Orchestra concert was the last large-scale performance to grace the stage of the Gaillard Auditorium for more than two years.During the renovation project, the Spoleto Festival and local arts organizations, such as the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Charleston Concert Association, will have to make use of the city’s other venues.The remaking of the Gaillard is overdue, some say.An economically vital and culturally significant city must have an up-to-date concert hall. A city without one cannot hope to reach its full potential. Others worry that the $142 million price tag, half of which is being paid with public dollars, is too high, or misspent considering other civic priorities.Whatever your view, it’s clear that musicians, patrons and Gaillard technicians are in favor of the planned improvements, though some express concern over how the hiatus could affect performers.As orchestra members trickled off the stage after their concert, The Post and Courier asked several concertgoers how they felt about saying “see you later” to a theater that has become a cultural lynchpin in Charleston.“I’m very sad because I live two blocks away and I walk here, but I’m very happy with the renovation.”Jackie Berlinsky, patron“They’ve gotten really good performing companies from all over the world. How will this (hiatus) affect the draw on those companies?”Pat Bell, patron“It’s difficult to be without it for two years. We’ve had the same seats on the balcony for 25 years. But it will be worth it. ... I hope they hook up the parking garage so we can walk without getting wet in the rain.”Bill Seaborn, patron“I’m looking forward to the renovation. Especially the center aisle and better elevators.”Nancy Shows, Gaillard usher“I have fond memories of performance that have taken place here, not of the hall. The new theater will really reflect how Charleston’s proud of the performances that take place here.”Nigel Redden, Spoleto USA Festival general director“It’s time for it to be renovated. I’m looking forward to the new performances when they come in.”Sandra Jacobs, patron“I’m so grateful because as a wheelchair person I’ve had a hard time getting in and around. I’m looking forward to the more accessible theater.”Sally Flynn, patron“It’s just a catastrophe the way it is. I don’t think it needs a lot of other things that (Mayor) Joe Riley thinks it needs. I don’t think it will hurt” its neighborhood.Jackie Fleet, patronSarah DeSantis
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