Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by.
~Stardust by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish
evening at the Sawdust Theatre in Coquille, Oregon, and Darling Dearheart, a
heroine dressed all in white, enters stage left; the audience Oohs and Ahs
as she puts her hands together, starts to say her line, and then sneezes for
what seems like the "twenty-third" time in the play. No one minds; everyone
just laughs and smiles for the twenty-third time.
"Boo!" cries the audience as the dastardly villain appears dressed in
black, sporting a V-shaped moustache and, screaming, "Curses, foiled again!"
No one minds; they laugh and yell at Hadrian Heartless, once again for the
The players who come from Coquille, Bandon, Coos Bay and other cities of
the South Coast and refer to themselves as "Sawdusters," take the stage
every year from May to September to act, sing and dance their hearts out.
They continue a city tradition that goes back 37 years.
They are ordinary people from the South Coast area; a few have
professional experience; a few more maybe acted in a high school play or
appeared in other local theater. Mostly though, they are people from all
walks of life: Title clerks and social workers, bus drivers and school
superintendents; fathers and grandfathers, mothers and daughters.
They come in all shapes and sizes, just like ordinary people, from svelte
to chubby, from blonde and brunette to gray and balding. Some are players
who act in the comic melodramas; some are olios.
A bit slow on the uptake, I finally figure out that an olio is a
performer who sings and dances or participates in sketches before the
curtain during set changes. Later, I discover that the heyday of the olio
was in Vaudeville. Examples of the olios (sketches and performers) are seen
in the movies Hello Dolly and The Seven Little Foys.
A lady olio, in skimpy dress and fishnet stockings, lifts her long
legs and braving male catcalls and other taunts, dances from stage left
holding a sign that says These Cinderellas. When she reaches center
stage, she flips the sign over and it reads, Sure Get The Fellas as
she dances off stage right.
Sitting between my wife and her aunt, I try-- unsuccessfully I fear--to
avoid staring at those shapely "be-stockinged" legs. Joyce good naturedly
punches me in the side with her elbow, and I stare straight ahead for a
while. Finally, I look at her smirking face and pretend to hang my head.
This season the melodrama that the "Sawdusters" are putting on is called
Dire Doings At the Dusty Saw Theatre and Saloon or There Will Be a
Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. The company puts on a different
melodrama every season, and they are very entertaining. Be sure to check out
the website of the Sawdust Theatre
for some excellent pictures of the performance, the players and the olios.
Audience participation (Boo, Hiss, Ahhh, catcalls) is one of the elements
that makes the theatre unique and contributes to making it one of the finest
and oldest melodrama traditions in the western United States. Other
attributes of their success are the sheer energy and skill with which they
perform in offering their audience such viewing pleasure. The fact that the
cast stands outside the theatre shaking hands and thanking members of the
audience for attending their performance is still another element in the
Sawdust's success and quite a pleasant touch also.
Besides, unbeknownst to Joyce I got to shake hands with the lady olio
whose legs I admired.
You can tell they have rehearsed long and hard to produce such a fine
evening. The sets are great, the music from the lone piano enthralling, but
the costumes are simply wonderful and really evoke those days of gas lamps
and horse-drawn carriages. You cannot help but admire and appreciate the
effort of this community and the pride the all-volunteer cast and staff take
in establishing successful theatre in their city.
Before the curtain goes up on Act Two in which the heroine will most
likely sneeze several more times and be saved from the dastardly clutches
of the evil villain by the young, dashing hero, an olio dances out
cradling a sign that says These Insects Don't Bite. At mid-stage
she turns it over where we see, They're Beauty in Flight.
Then, the other olios materialize in front of the curtain with the men
dressed in Victorian casual clothes looking like butterfly collectors out of
a Gary Larson cartoon (The Far Side) chasing fair damsels dressed as
butterflies around the stage as the piano plays a bright, sparkling tune
from olden days.
The original Roxy Theatre—home for the Sawdusters
28 years—burned in 1994. The new Sawdust Theatre is the result of many hours
of volunteer labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Locals say the
ambience of the "Gay 90s" that was so much a part of the old Roxy is slowly
coming alive in the new theatre as volunteers finish the interior.
The Sawdusters put on their shows from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every
Friday and Saturday. The curtain rises at 8 PM, but the "Gay 90's" ambience
starts before the curtain goes up with a sing-along featuring old favorites
from the American songbook of the era, such as
and By the Light of the Silvery Moon.
Prior to the play, the lady olios perform the French dance famous from 19th
century music halls, the Can-Can, with lots of attractive, high-kicking legs
and rustling petticoats.
Oh yes. . .I forgot to mention that the popcorn is free and plentiful.
They also sell beverages and snacks in the "saloon."
Two separate casts alternate performances so each performance may be
slightly different from any other. Many members of the audience come several
times during the season and find the production fresh eveery time.
The Sawdust Theatre is located at the corner of 1st and Adams in
Coquille, which is 15 miles from Coos Bay. The entire area is accessible
from Interstate 5; take the exit for Highway 42 at Roseburg.
Reservations are taken only from Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until
6pm. Please contact:
River Bend Floral & Gifts
38 E. First Street
Coquille, OR 97423
Oh yes, a final word. . .please remember that "Gentlemen are asked to use
receptacles for chewing tobacco juices. . ."
Editor's Notes: Melodrama--literally a blend of music (melody) and
drama evolved from the early 1800's and survived through the 1920's. In
accord with the artistic sensibilities of many in the Victorian Age, most
melodramas involved simple, often sentimental plots, stock characters that
appealed to the audience's emotions. Men were men, women were women, heroes
were usually bright and brave while villains were usually dark and
Melodrama developed hand in hand with a type of acting developed by
Francois Delsarte, a Frenchman. Delsarte developed theatrical aesthetics
that coordinated actors' expressions of their characters with a near
scientific application of appropriate gestures to help define character and
acting situations. Many famous actors and singers of the day studied with
Delsarte, including Jenny Lind.
Modern melodrama--such as presented at the Sawdust Theatre--often pokes
fun at many of the standard plots and characters of the Gilded Age.
According to Dictionary.Com, modern
usage of the term, melodrama, now usually refers to plays, movie and
television dramas "characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical
characters, and interpersonal conflicts."
Copyright 2003, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.