Vaudeville has been deemed “Variety Entertainment,” the “Voice of the City” and “The Heart of American Show Business.” These variety shows enjoyed huge popularity for decades in North America. The “acts” included everything from one-act plays, comedians, musicians, singers, jugglers, magicians and burlesque dancers; even some short films. These multifaceted shows were a feast for the eyes and enlightenment for the souls of its audiences. Alas, all things have their time and by the 1910s the death-blow decline in vaudevillian shows came in the form of lower-priced cinema.
Many vaudeville performers traveled the circuits; a chain of allied vaudeville houses that contracted acts for regional and national tours. Our beautiful gem state still houses a few of these brilliant theatres. The Historic Wilson Theatre in Rupert, Idaho, The Egyptian Theatre in Boise and our beloved Panida Theater in Sandpoint, are all beautiful examples of the glory days of the variety show.
The Panida Theater was built in 1927 by F.C. Weskil for the sum of $70,000. The Spanish Mission-style structure was the first building in Sandpoint to be constructed completely of reinforced concrete. Mr. Weskil dedicated this stucco beauty to the people of the Idaho Panhandle, hence the name “Pan-Ida,” Panida. He wanted a venue to showcase film and vaudeville acts with great entertainers and performances of the day. His dream is still alive and well.
Today, this charming historic theater still emulates the spirit of vaudeville. The Panida hosts local talent as well as those touring their arts. Center stage has held the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Winton Marsalis and Viggo Mortensen. The crimson-colored grand drape accents plays, films, dance recitals, festivals and concerts. You can also rent the community owned theater for your very own special event. “Inspiring cultural enrichment, education and entertainment through the arts for all generations” is Panida’s mission.
Our arts community is growing every day. We have many venues and festivals to nurture the arts in our lives. The Lake City Playhouse is one of my favorite places to enjoy a show. LCP was constructed in the late 1940s using building materials taken from the old officers’ mess at Farragut. It was originally used as a Mormon church. In the 1960s, the Coeur d’Alene Community Theater purchased the building, and until the loan was paid in full they were not allowed to produce any show that contained alcohol consumption. The original Summer Theater shared the stage until North Idaho College completed construction of the beautiful Boswell Hall. Lake City Playhouse has even had their share of celebrities grace the stage and seats of its little theater. Ellen Travolta, Jack Bannon, Cheyenne Jackson, Patty Duke, Bobby Sherman and David Soul have enjoyed some time at the playhouse. No theater would be complete without a good little ghost tale either. Rumor has it, there is a fellow named George who also likes this little haunt as well.
Another arts avenue we have in the spring is the 50 Hour Slam: an annual film competition and festival open to all filmmakers in the Spokane and North Idaho areas. Filmmakers have exactly 50 hours to complete a three- to six-minute movie: beginning with the writing and development to the final editing stage. Competitors are encouraged to experiment, get creative and push their talents to the limit to create a unique and entertaining piece for their entry. This is my third year competing and let me tell you, it is a blast!
Art on the Green is a beloved local yearly event that takes place at the Old Fort Sherman Grounds on the North Idaho College Campus in early August. It is an outdoor arts and crafts festival sponsored by Citizens’ Council for the Arts. It hosts a juried art show, musical performances, dance performances, great food and drink, an arts and crafts market, a giant sand castle and even a place for your little budding artist to experiment with paint and clay. Art on the Green has been a staple in my family’s summer for a couple of decades now.
Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and the Christian Youth Theater hold performances at the state-of-the-art Kroc Center, a more recent addition our area can take pride in. The Schuler Performing Arts Center in Boswell Hall on the NIC campus also holds various performances throughout the year. Both locales are large, beautiful, modern and perfect for larger productions. We also have several other wonderful venues scattered between Spokane and Sandpoint: The Magic Lantern, Spokane Civic Theatre, The Blue Door Theatre, Martin Woldson Theatre at The Fox, The Bing Crosby Theater and INB Performing Arts Center. I have had the good fortune of being able to visit all of these magical odea, and I encourage you to partake and support your arts community by doing the same.
Even though our region does have some pretty spectacular places for the arts to flourish, there is always room to grow. That growth will occur only through the acknowledgement that art, in whatever form it takes, is vital to our lives. Whether we relish a painting or a performance, art gives us something to ponder. You can show your support for the arts just by attending a local theater performance, event or festival; a great way to start and get involved. You can also volunteer or audition, become a participant, engage in your community. Back in the ‘90s, I was cast in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Panida, and due to the lack of a male actor to play the lead, that play had to be cancelled. It was an unfortunate loss of entertainment and growth all due to just one person not being willing to step out and do something different. No matter if you are in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene or Sandpoint, there is a place for you to be a part of the show.
The spirit of the vaudevillian is alive and well here in the great Northwest. The variety we cultivate, from Shakespeare to Gypsy Rose Lee, is something to be cherished, nourished and promoted. Variety is the spice of life after all! Our lovely Panida Theater does that with all the grace of the bygone days in which it was built. Art is the way we connect, communicate and discover all the beauty this world holds.
Picasso was quoted as saying, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Perhaps art is not only a cleansing but the very meaning of life itself. Creation is the breath of art. All of the world may be a stage, but it’s nice to know we have a little theater right here in our own backyard to gather and revel in that vaudeville sparkle.