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After 20 years, Tampa Theatre’s marketing and community relations guru, Tara Schroeder, is leaving Tampa Theatre in a few weeks to move back to her home town of New Orleans to be with her family.  While the axiom that “everyone can be replaced” is true, of course, it is equally true that everyone is unique, and some things about certain people just cannot be duplicated.  So let’s just sayImage, there’s something about Tara.

I first met Tara years ago when I had become involved with a group of historic theatre operators through an organization called the League of Historic American Theatres.  Tara was on the small but intrepid staff of LHAT, and I observed how hard she worked, how passionate she was about historic theatres, and how she had this uncanny ability to quickly make friends with total strangers.   When an opportunity to bring her to Tampa Theatre came around, she was ready for a change and we were lucky enough to hire her away. I’m not sure the League has ever truly forgiven me for poaching her, but they still let me come to their meetings.

In her time here Tara has done so much that it’s hard not to name an area where she hasn’t had an influence or made a difference.  I often counseled her that her biggest problem was that she didn’t know how to say “no”, which resulted in her taking on more projects than I can count.  Looking back, of course, it’s one of the things that also made her so valuable.

Her knack for making friends translated beautifully into building the community’s ties to the Theatre.  It’s no coincidence that during her time here the Theatre has become somewhat of a media darling. No matter what all the public relations experts may say in workshops about generating publicity, if the press doesn’t like you personally, you’re not likely to get much press.  The press loved Tara.

Rosa Rio, the legendary organist who passed away at age 107 just a few years ago, became best friends with Tara.  It wasn’t surprising, given that they were both from New Orleans and both shared a passion for people and Tampa Theatre.  Aside from helping Rosa during her silent film performances, Tara spent a great deal of time with her as a friend and spent more than a few wine-fueled and laughter-filled evenings at Rosa’s home. The key to their friendship was that Tara did not treat Rosa like she was a 107; she was just one of her gal pals.

One of Tara’s lasting legacies will be the creation of our award-winning summer film camp.   Nine years ago it was Tara who decided that Tampa Theatre should invent a film-making summer camp to teach the creative process of film-making to children.  Tara knew that the camp would do more than teach a child how to make a short movie.  She knew the process would teach them valuable social and communications skills, too, like collaboration, compromise, and teamwork.  She accomplished this feat by forging a perfect partnership with the University of South Florida’s Department of Education, and today the Tampa Theatre Film Camp is the hottest summer camp ticket in Tampa.

We have no shortage of great applicants to fill the position, and I know we will find someone great who will be eager to step in and make their own contributions to the Theatre’s service to the community. It’s healthy for organizations to look forward to new ideas and an infusion of fresh thinking. Still, Tara’s contributions will be long remembered.

So, Tara Schroeder, thank you for making Tampa and Tampa Theatre a better and happier place. We will miss you. And, as we sang way too many times during a certain sing-a-long, “So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, goodbye.”

Bon chance.

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Jim Wordes and Aasif Mandvi

About a month ago, my pal Jim Wordes called to say that one of his pals from USF, Aasif Mandvi, has a new film called Today’s Special. (Aasif’s day job is as a special correspondent for a little basic cable show you may have heard of called “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart“).  Jim also said that Aasif has family in the area and perhaps we could coordinate a visit. Yada, yada, yada… Aasif will be here for a Q&A after the Saturday, November 27, 7:30 screening.  You can also catch him on WMNF 88.5 Art in Your Ear with the lovely hostess, JoEllen Schilke, on Friday, November 26, 1-2pm.  Listen live at 88.5 or online at wmnf.org.  They are both smart and hilarious so should be a fun show!

The interesting thing here is that Jim was our connection to some other pals from USF with family still in the area, Seth Keal and Charles Miller, who came to TT for Q&A’s with their film, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The takeaways here are:
1.  Always answer phone calls from Jim Wordes.
2.  USF gets an A+ for educating students who go on to such successful careers.

Aasif returned to USF last week to give a lecture (he’s hilarious!).  Jim and I went and he snapped some photos for Creative Loafing.  I accompanied Jim to say hi to Aasif afterwards — what a nice guy!

Indie Filmmaker Kimberly Wetherell

In another Today’s Special coincidence… got a call earlier this week from a successful indie filmmaker named Kimberly Wetherell (another local done good) who was the associate producer for Today’s Special.  She’s from here, moved to NYC and just happens to be down here working on a new film (which will likely premiere at TT.)  She’s over the moon that Today’s Special will be at TT — her favorite movie palace.  So… yada, yada, yada… Kimberly will be here for a Q&A after the Friday, November 26, 7:30 screening.

Yay!

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We awoke this morning to the sad news that Hollywood legend Tony Curtis passed away over night.  It’s safe to say that he was one of the great iconic actors of his day, and he enjoyed his work and his celebrity immensely.  We had the pleasure of hosting Tony Curtis here at Tampa Theatre in 1996 when we screened “Some Like it Hot” as part of a series of films from the National Film Registry.  

Tony Curtis on stage at Tampa Theatre (1996), with daughter Alex and twin granddaughters Dido and Elizabeth

Some Like It Hot” still sits atop most polls and surveys as the #1 most enjoyable comedy ever.  Whenever we’ve shown it, we’ve always enjoyed great crowds – most of whom have already seen the film several times.  In that regard its like “Casablanca”  . . .  there always seems to be an audience eager to see it in a great setting.  

My remembrances of my brief day with Tony Curtis always bring a smile to my face.  About a month before his appearance at Tampa Theatre, my phone rang at my desk.  I picked it up and on the other end of the line was Tony Curtis who with great gusto said “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”.  Now, I’ve personally dealt with celebrities from time to time (from Ben Vereen to Vincent Price), but I can tell you I became a babbling idiot on the phone during that first phone call.  I mean, it was Tony Curtis on the other end of the line talking to me like I was an old friend. 

Over the next few weeks leading up to the event I got more phone calls from him, as did staff member Tara Schroeder who was handling all of the press relations for his visit.   Her phone would ring, and she would hear “Tara, Tara, Tara!!  This is Tony, Tony, Tony!”   He became personally involved in making sure his appearance worked for us, and we really looked forward to hosting him in person.

On the day of the event, we wanted Tony Curtis and his family members travelling with him to arrive at the Theatre in style.  We made arrangements for a friend who had a Rolls Royce to pick him up from his downtown hotel and bring him to the red carpet in front of the Theatre.   Tara and I waited with anticipation with a throng of fans in front of the Theatre for his arrival.  We became excited when we saw the Rolls pulling up Franklin Street.  The Rolls got to the front of the Theatre and, aghast, I realized that no one but the driver was inside.  He had a look of shock on his face.   

Thinking the driver either got lost or had lost Tony Curtis, I ran over to him and asked “Where is he?!!!??!”  He replied that Tony had a few more people than expected and he didn’t want to take separate cars, so he called for a cab. 

Tony Curtis arriving at Tampa Theatre in a cab, not a Rolls.

About that time, a beat up station wagon taxi pulled around the corner, screeching tires with smoke billowing out the tail pipe.  The taxi’s back end looked like it needed suspension work because it appeared overloaded and dragging.  The taxi skidded to a stop, the door opened, and Tony and six others came pouring out of the cab.  The crowd roared its approval, and my heart rate returned to something resembling normal. 

Over the course of the evening, he could not have been more gracious.  He mingled with the crowd, signed every autograph asked of him, posed with guests for picture after picture.  Once he stepped on stage to introduce the film and again afterwards for a Q & A, he became every bit of “Tony Curtis, the movie star” and the crowd couldn’t get enough of him.  Off stage with me, Tara and the Tampa Theatre crowd, he was simply “Tony”, a guy who seemed to enjoy making friends everywhere he went. 

We had him for just a day, but it was enough for us to appreciate his spirit and how much joy he found in living his life large.

All of us at Tampa Theatre extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. 

Tony, Tony, Tony:  Bravo, Bravo, Bravo.

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     We’re saddened to say that longtime Tampa Theatre friend Rosa Rio has passed away. Below you’ll find a bit about her life.  There will be a public memorial for her at Tampa Theatre on Saturday, June 5 at 11:00 am. More details at www.tampatheatre.org/Rosa.php

     Please share your memories of Rosa in the comments below and we’ll pass them along to her family.

  

ROSA RIO, LEGENDARY THEATRE ORGANIST, DIES AT 107

     Rosa Rio peacefully passed away at her home in Sun City Center on May 13, 2010 with her husband, Bill Yeoman, by her side.  She was 107 years old. 

    Her prolific career began with a simple declaration to her family at age eight, “When I grow up, I want to play a big piano, wear pretty clothes and lots of jewelry, and make people happy.” 

    She was extraordinarily positive, motivated and determined.  She was able to seamlessly adapt to changes in the entertainment industry (silent films, talkies, radio, TV, and finally, back to silent films). “I can’t believe that I’ve been so fortunate to have been in so many things that went out and I bounced back,” she said in 2007.  Her path was not without challenges.  As the only woman in the orchestra pit, she routinely challenged men who considered her to be second fiddle because of her gender.  She allayed those stereotypical reactions with talent, charm and a (sometimes bawdy) sense of humor.    

    Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre’s Director Programming and Marketing, had become best friends with Rio.  “Rosa’s talent and passion for music and the theatre organ was remarkable, and in fact I am certain that her passion was the key to her longevity.  I feel so fortunate to have become so close to her. She is a testament to the will of spirit,” Schroeder said.

    Rosa began taking piano lessons at eight, and at ten landed her first job at a silent movie theater in hometown of New Orleans.  After studying music at Oberlin College and silent film accompaniment at The Eastman School of Music, Rosa accompanied silent films in movie palaces in New York and New Orleans.  The balloon burst in 1927 with the advent of “talkies.”

    In the 1930s and 40s, Rosa was dubbed “Queen of the Soaps,” having provided organ accompaniment for 24 soap operas and radio dramas, sometimes dashing from one studio to another with seconds between shows.  On average, she played for five to seven shows per day, including “The Shadow” with Orson Welles and “The Bob and Ray Show,” “Cavalcade of America,” “My True Story,” and “The Goldbergs.”  

    Rosa was hired by NBC as a temporary replacement while they searched for a man.  “I asked them if they were looking for a man or an organist,” Rosa said.  She stayed for 22 years and was the first woman hired into an orchestra of 156 men.  It would be ten years before another woman was hired, and would kindle Rosa’s life-long passion for women’s rights. 

    Transitioning to television, Rosa played the organ for many network series, including “The Today Show,” “As the World Turns,” and “The Guiding Light.”

    On piano, Rosa worked with many vocalists, most notably Mary Martin, whom she accompanied at her audition for Cole Porter.  

    Since 1996, Rosa performed for over 30 silent film presentations for full houses at the Tampa Theatre’s 1,400-pipe Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  Her last performance at Tampa Theatre was on August 30, 2009 when she provided the accompaniment for a Buster Keaton silent comedy.  While the sold-out audiences always thanked her with standing ovations, she graciously returned the accolades, saying “I have such gratitude for the wonderful people who have such love for the theatre organ, silent pictures and Tampa Theatre.”

    John Bell, Tampa Theatre’s President and CEO said, “We were so fortunate to have Rosa as part of the Tampa Theatre family for the past 14 years.  She was an amazing woman with remarkable talent who introduced tens of thousands of people to the magic of silent films and the theatre organ.  While I am very saddened by her passing, I am so thankful that she was able to share her musical talents throughout her long and fulfilling life.  She was an inspiration to so many people, young and old.”

    If you would like to express your condolences to Rosa’s family, you can send cards and letters to Tampa Theatre, Attn: Rosa’s Family, 711 N. Franklin St., Tampa, FL 33602. Please no flowers. Emails can be directed to tara@tampatheatre.org.

    Tampa Theatre will celebrate her life with a memorial on Saturday, June 5 at 11:00 am.  The public is invited.

 

Listen to a portion of Rosa’s StoryCorps Recording

StoryCorps recorded some wonderful conversations with Tampa Bay residents during their stay in Ybor City in partnership with our local radio station WMNF 88.5 where you you can tune in regularly to two different pieces each week.  Listen to Rosa’s recording here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/wmnfstory

Rosa Rio Magazine Article

Read more about Rosa in this in-depth article
from the Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society.

Rosa Rio on Fox 13’s “Charley’s World” with Charley Belcher

Listen to Rosa Rio’s interview Charley Belcher featured Rosa on one of his entertaining “Charley’s World” segments.  Click here to watch it. 

Rosa Rio Interviewed on NPR

Listen to Rosa Rio’s interview on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition.  Rosa speaks about her experiences playing the organ on The Shadow with Orson Welles and countless other radio shows, silent movies, and soap operas – and being the Tampa’s special event organist.

She Improvs with Age

A gift for improvisation has carried organist Rosa Rio through a century of change.  By Cooper Cruz in The Weekly Planet

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Swing by the Tampa Museum of Art tonight to see art inspired by Rosa Rio – and lots of other cool art at this month’s Art after Dark shingig, “Cause an Effect.”  About 20 local artists were invited to create a piece for the show based on a local cause or charity of their choosing.  TMA selected local artist Daniel Mrgan who chose Tampa Theatre. 

“Since Tampa Theatre has always been one of my favorite places in the world,” said Daniel, “an almost perfect little oasis for quenching my cinematic thirst, my choice of a cause was a no-brainer – I would love to create a piece that will celebrate Tampa Theatre in some way.”

Until recently, the effervescent Rosa accompanied our silent films at the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  I’m going to see her tomorrow and she’s sure to get a kick out of seeing photos of Daniel’s artwork.  By the way, Rosa has been a little under the weather, but recovering.  If you’d like to send her a get well card or email, send to: Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602 or tara@tampatheatre.org.

Tampa Museum of Art
Art after Dark – Saturday, April 16, 8-11pm
Free for members; $10 non-members

See you tonight!  I’m wearing a goofy t-shirt with a photo of a Tampa Theatre statue photoshopped with running shorts and shoes.  (Yep, there’s a story.)

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This morning I sat through a state Arts Council grant panel review for Media Arts organizations.  The grant review process is now conducted by teleconference, which is great because it saves thousands of dollars in travel expenses for arts organizations statewide.  It used to be that we’d all have to haul our tired carcasses to Tallahassee, which is a fine town but is not exactly conveniently located.

This state grant program funds those cultural organizations whose primary mission is to advance film production and exhibition in Florida.   We’ve applied for many years and have always seemed to fare well.  The panelists are experts in the field who take the time to read and analyze each application, then score them.  The scores from all of the panelists are totaled and then averaged.  This morning we were pleased when Tampa Theatre’s application received the highest score overall!

Now, all of this may not matter because the legislature is wrestling with budget cuts.   There’s the possibility that the program which funds these grants may not be funded at all.  Yes, times are tough, especially for governments at all levels, but the arts are a proven, smart investment.  We also believe Tampa Theatre is one of Tampa’s most creative economic engines and deserves local and state support.

If you take just three minutes now and click on this link where you can send a quick and easy message to your legislator.  Doing so will help restore funding for the Theatre’s artistic and educational programs, but it may also help hundreds of other local arts organizations all around the state.

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Tara Heart Cary Grant

So much fun reading all the great suggestions.  Thank you all!  Keep ‘em coming so I’ll have them for next summer.  Plus — On Friday April 16 some people may win a Summer Classics Six Pack (6 tickets).   I’ll pick a few at radom from all the emails & blog comments I’ve received by Friday, April 16.

I was vindicated to see PILLOW TALK pop up on many lists since I lost an attendance bet with my boss John Bell over that movie several years ago… grrrrrr.   

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, GWTW and CASABLANCA were the most requested.  TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and PSYCHO were on lots of lists, too.   I heard about a new restored 35mm print of THE RED SHOES, so I’m noodling around with the idea of a dance theme for the Jan/Feb classics, so will likely show SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN then.  Lots of people suggested contemporary and foreign classics, so also considering a separate series for both of those ideas.  I’ve gotten a few questions lately about how we select the movies and where we get them.  (“Do you have a film vault in the back?”)  No film vault, but will do a separate blog on that behind-the-screen adventure later.  

Now back the summer classics.  More details later about Audience Costume Parade and Sing-A-Long details, etc.  Here’s the line up:

TOPPER – Sunday, June 6  Archival Print!

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT – Sunday, June 13

HIS GIRL FRIDAY – Sunday, June 20  Archival Print!

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN – Sunday, June 27  New Restored 35mm Print!

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY – Sunday, July 4

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE – IN 3D! Sunday, July 11

PSYCHO – Sunday, July 18

CASABLANCA – Saturday, July 24 & Sunday, July 25

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Sunday, August 1  New Restored 35mm Print!

SING-A-LONG MARY POPPINS – Saturday, August 7 & Sunday, August 8

THE PRINCESS BRIDE – Sunday, August 15  New Restored 35mm Print!

GONE WITH THE WIND – Saturday, August 21 & Sunday, August 22

METROPOLIS – Sunday, August 29   Digitally Restored with Missing Footage with live musical accompaniment with the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

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