My turn: Remembering McPhetres Hall

Posted: Tuesday, June 08, 2010

I have many memories of the original McPhetres Hall at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. It had earsplitting echoes and blotchy lighting. It always smelled faintly of bacon and less faintly of strong coffee. The chairs all seemed designed for maximum discomfort. I also remember the old McPhetres rented for a good price, welcomed the widest possible cross section of this wonderfully talented and ambitious town and was, therefore, a place of almost limitless possibilities.

So, Theatre in the Rough started working there, transforming that bare room into a place where people came together to laugh, dodge sword fights, confront mystery and build their community. I directed my first play there, and ten shows over the years. I remember acres of drapery to improve the sound. I remember when the church let us actually install hardware in the ceiling to hang lights. I remember our aging stage, put up and taken down so many times you could see daylight through it. I remember our storeroom downstairs, a floor to ceiling wonderland of costumes, lights, swords, banners, puppets and on and on and on.

Then on a cold Sunday morning in the winter of 2006, there was a fire.

Later that year, I remember walking by the corner of Fourth and Gold, first stinking, then frozen, then soaking, then stinking again. I remember breaking into the condemned site with some hardy and foolhardy souls to reclaim some of what was lost - mostly metal, black with soot and red with rust. A wooden sword my brother had made me (always there are miracles). A melted plastic tote, now a nasty pancake of ash and daggers.

Old memories make room for new. The future calls. The right-now keeps going.

I helped design the theatre in New Hall. I've helped raise money to build it. I'm biased, as biased as I could be. But I still say, with a real stage, a full light grid, on-site rehearsal space and a nice lobby out front full of art, the New McPhetres Hall will be, to put it mildly, a vast improvement. This spring, Theatre in the Rough will, at last, return to Fourth and Gold just in time for its 20th anniversary. I wonder what we will remember on our 30th?

I bet we remember the smell of oil on Douglas Fir and Red Cedar. We'll remember how fine the place looks when those lights - way up on the 18-foot ceiling - dim down and the curtain opens on some evening of wonder, delight and truth. Every time we turn on those lights, we'll remember how we don't have to pull the stove out from the wall to plug them in anymore. Some may remember those horrible Easter egg-colored chairs as they sit and watch in comfort from the nice chairs on risers in the new hall. I hope many remember "Our Town," directed by the incomparable Katie Jensen in the Spring of 2011, Theatre in the Rough's first of many shows in the new hall.

We'll remember performances by the kids at the Juneau Charter School and all other art groups, too. Movie marathons on the big drop down screen. Dancing at wedding receptions and concerts. Meetings, suppers, lunches, breakfasts and many, many cups of strong coffee. We will remember how McPhetres Hall at Holy Trinity still rents for a good price, welcomes the widest possible cross section of our town and is, still, a place of almost limitless possibilities. It's coming, Juneau. It's almost here. It's for all of us to build our town in and its going to knock your socks off.

• Aaron Elmore is artistic coordinator for Holy Trinity and co-artistic director of Theatre in the Rough in Juneau.

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