A Minute in the City 10-6-20: Keep a light on

In May of 2018, my husband and I treated ourselves to a night at the Fox to see The Phantom of the Opera. It had been awhile since I’d set foot in the place, preferring smaller stages like the Rep. But once I stepped into the lobby, I was overcome by its…well, opulence. I turned to my husband and said, “This has got to go in next year’s calendar.”

But it wasn’t until I toured the theater six months later that I realized just how over-the-top it was. One of the three remaining movie palaces built by the late William Fox, the Fabulous Fox was designed in the dazzling – one might go so far as to say unsettling – Siamese-Byzantine style. There’s not a square inch of the theatre that escapes decoration, not a moment of the theatre experience that fails to overwhelm, and not a penny spared in its construction, renovation, or expansion. A trip to the Fox is a trip.

Here are a few takeaways from my bookend visits in 2018:

First, that carpet! The Fox’s carpet has an elephant motif woven into it, and each trunk is raised for good luck. That’s understandable, right? But did you know that each of those elephants must face the stage to wish the actors well? That means lots of extra carpet had to be ordered to keep all those trunks in alignment as they wound through the theatre and up the stairs!

Second, the Fox has ghosts. I chose William Fox’s widow, Eve Leo, to grace the October page of this year’s calendar, because it was her taste that dictated the theatre’s gaudy decor. Ms. Leo, who died in 1962, still pops in for a visit now and then, usually wearing a blue suit.

Finally, I learned that the Fox, like most theatres, keeps a “ghost light” burning, even when the theatre is dark. It stays lit to keep the ghosts happy between productions and to keep the living safe before the rest of the lights are turned on.

I’ve spent my theatre-going years on the “house” side of the stage, so the ghost light was a new concept to me. And in this dark year, I find that concept comforting. For the cast and crew members who rely on the theatre for employment, for the businesses that rely on a thriving economy, for the quarantined who rely on both business and the arts to keep their spirits aloft, it is critical to keep a light burning.

For seven months now, I’ve kept the lights on at A YEAR IN THE CITY, creating artwork for new cards and calendars, binding and boxing the products I already have, believing that somehow someday we’ll be back. Some mornings I feel like Eve Leo walking into the theatre when it’s dark. But as soon as I start working, my mood brightens. Creativity always lights the way.

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The Fabulous Fox Theatre is featured in my 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. Signed prints, calendars, and cards are available in St. Louis shops and online at ayearinthecity.com/shop.

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