The Schnitz or The Arlene?

On Friday, I received an e-mail from Bill Crane, organizer of the recent 24/7 Concert at Weiden + Kennedy. This time he was pushing the notion that we should stop calling the home of the Oregon Symphony “The Schnitz." Instead we should adopt the more elegant moniker “The Arlene.” As reported by Barry Johnson at Portland Arts Watch yesterday, Mr. Crane buttonholed him about this idea in the course of a broader conversation about arts advocacy.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to go along with the suggestion. While I understand the sentiment, I’m leery of efforts to use labels to sway (or manipulate) public opinion. Shouldn’t our nicknames for places bubble up out of popular usage?

Besides, “The Arlene” sounds like the name of a neighborhood bar. With that in mind, here’s an original poem in honor of National Poetry Month:

A Night at The Arlene

We were all down at The Arlene.
Glenn Gould was hunched over
the bottles and the jiggers,
mixing variations
on the theme of gin.

Last week it was Philip Glass
working the bar.
The man kept lining them up
like clockwork,
over and over again.

Over in the far corner
a lone cello bellowed,
while a viola moaned
a sad lament
in a minor key.

A tipsy percussionist
held his brass cymbals
chest high while waiting
for just the right moment
to crash.


Addendum: For Culture Shock’s vast legion of out-of-town readers, I should have mentioned that the building to which I refer is formally called the “Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall,” named after a local philanthropist and friend of the arts.

The building is a gorgeous Italian Renaissance-style structure which opened in 1928 as a vaudeville house called the “Portland Publix Theatre.” According to its Wikipedia entry, “during the Great Depression, the theatre hired roving musicians and a ‘psychic’ to entertain in the lobby before movies, in an effort to attract patrons to the theatre. (Methinks this might be the time to try this idea again).

A few years after opening, the name –and the sign out front--changed to the “Paramount.” The venue continued to be used as a movie house until 1972. For another dozen years after that, it was rented out for rock concerts. In 1984, the building was renovated to create a 2,800 seat concert hall which is the home of the Oregon Symphony. The venue is also used by many other presenters – from contemporary dance series presented by White Bird to rock concerts and comedy shows.

15 comments:

Stephen said...

The Arlene makes me think of Arlene Francis (which is a good thing).
You can't force the populus to adopt a nickname... it happens organically.
Lovely Theatre.
Nice Poem!

culturejock said...

What next? "The Bob" instead of "The Gerding?"

This reminds me that years ago, when PCPA was selling the naming rights to what is now called the Newmark Theater, Kitty and I were describing the opportunity to one of PCS's subscribers and he was visibly excited to learn that for only $750,000 (the asking price at the time), he could name it THE FRED THEATER! (Exclamation his.) That was back in 1998.

Keep up the great poetry, MTC.

Allison Harris said...

Yeah, trying to force nicknames rarely succeeds. And anyway, The Schnitz is catchier.

MightyToyCannon said...

Some readers may know that the performing arts building next to "The Schnitz" was originally dubbed "The New Theatre Building" when it opened in 1987. What is now the "Newmark Theatre" within that building was called, "The Intermediate Theatre" for years (classy!). It became the Newmark in 1997. The smaller Dolores Winningstad Theatre in the same building had that name from day one. Its nickname "The Winnie" strikes me as perfectly endearing, and better than something like "The Dottie."

Brunish Hall (also same building) was Portland Center Stage's rehearsal hall until it became "Brunish Hall" in 2000. Nobody calls it "The Corey," as far as I know.

A few years ago, the New Theatre Building was renamed "Antoinette Hatfield Hall" after Senator Hatfield's wife. I was aware of an informal attempt being pushed to brand it as "The Toni." That is warm and fuzzy, but feels like a leap: From "Hatfield" to "Antoinette" to "Toni."

Since I have an association with a resident company using that building, I know that many audience members return a blank stare when I refer to the building as "Hatfield Hall." We've tried variant text such as "now performing at Hatfield Hall, home of the Newmark and Winningstad Theatres ..."

Still, the most effective, though awkward, name for the venue is "the brick and glass performing arts center next to the building with the big Portland sign on Broadway."

cynseattle said...

In the annals of confusing name games, we seem to have done a great job of it in Portland. To whit:

--opening a new theater company in 1988 called "Portland Center Stage/Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts." In 1988, much like today, most Portlanders think that the PCPA is just one building, the aforementioned brick and glass one. But they were confused about the company vs the building.

--name change in 1989 to OSF Portland in the PCPA. Alphabet soup.

--name change in 1994 to Portland Center Stage in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, or PCS in the PCPA. You figure it out.

--a move! Portland Center Stage to the Gerding Theater at the Armory. PCS at the GT at the A? yoiks. We still get calls from people wondering where their tickets to "Rigoletto" are.

"The Fred" seems like a great idea at this point!

MightyToyCannon said...

Cynseattle is right that most people think of the glass and brick building on Broadway as "The Performing Arts Center," not realizing that the Portland Center for the Performing Arts (PCPA) is actually a collection of venues-- including Keller Auditorium which some people still call Civic Auditorium (or "The Civic")--which are, in turn, managed by the Metropolitan Exposition and Recreation Commission (MERC) which also includes the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) and the Portland Expo Center (PEC?).

I don't think I actually figured out the connection between PCS and the PCPA until I'd already been hired by the former. It was just shedding the Oregon Shakespeare tag at that point, which added to my confusion about who I was working for.

cynseattle said...

Remarkably, MTC never let his confusion show, and he sat at the right desk every day.

MightyToyCannon said...

Adding to my confusion was the fact that on my way to my first interview at PCS, the earpiece of my glasses broke. At that time, my eyesight was not so bad that I couldn't maneuver through town. But when Cynseattle gave me a tour of PCS's venue in the Intermediate Theatre of the PCPA (refer to comment 4 above if you're confused), it was all a blur ... literally. I think they only hired me because I understood budgets and the interviewee who preceded me was a total accounting dweeb.

MightyToyCannon said...

He was an old man who only fished when the weather was warm and the seas were calm. His boat was The Arlene, a thirty-two footer with a deck slick with fish guts. He loved that boat as much as he loved his first wife. Her name was Arlene and he got a happy feeling thinking of her until he remembered how she died. “Time to catch some albacore,” he said aloud to no one but his pet monkey.

Bob said...

In honor of national doggerel month:

Arlene, Arlene,
I think you're the queen!
Too bad all those twits
call you The Schnitz.

I like the Bob for the Gerding. Has a certain ring to it ....

MightyToyCannon said...

A pianist named Horowitz
Said “I’ll never play a place called the Schnitz.
It wouldn’t seem so obscene.
If it was named “The Arlene”
A moniker that fits the joint’s glitz.”

cynseattle said...

hooray! we've finally arrived at limericks.

Maybe here at "The Bob" we should host a limerick slam.

MightyToyCannon said...

In response to cynseattle:

I ain’t afraid of no limerick!
It's my favorite poetical trick.
But to gather at the Gerding
for a bit of word herding,
may be reason for calling in sick.

Bob said...

A vociferous lad
from our city
hollered out,
"These names are a pity!
The Schnitz and the Gerding?
Such indelicate wording!
Wouldn't 'Bob' and 'Arlene'
be more witty?"

MightyToyCannon said...

Bob tossed a new rhyme into play
as if flung from a great trebuchet.
He’s added his voice,
and signaled his choice
and all I can say is touché.