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There's no business like NorShor business

So I see that the city of Duluth is getting ready to hand the NorShor Theater over to a private developer to get it up and running. I think this is a brilliant move because it ensures that we taxpayers won't have to be responsible for removing th...

Brian Matuszak
Brian Matuszak

So I see that the city of Duluth is getting ready to hand the NorShor Theater over to a private developer to get it up and running. I think this is a brilliant move because it ensures that we taxpayers won't have to be responsible for removing the icky, sticky stuff from the floors of this national treasure.

We'll also be off the hook for the uber-disgusting artifacts hidden way down in its spooky bowels. See, I produced four theatrical productions at the NorShor from 1995 to 1997, and I got a firsthand look at the cool stuff, the gross stuff, and the inexplicably strange stuff, that lives down there at 211 E. Superior St.

The NorShor is the last link to Duluth's rich theatrical history; it was a major vaudeville stop and all the big stars of the day--the Marx Brothers, Stan Laurel, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, etc. --all trod its boards.

When it was converted into a movie house, it got all reconfigured on the inside, and if you crawl up above the suspended ceiling to an area that is out of sight to the regular viewing public, and if you don't mind spiders in your hair or pigeon poop on your pants, you can actually see the cavernous, empty area that used to serve as theatrical seating. It's pretty cool. But there are other things living and lurking in the NorShor ... things that aren't so cool ....

I got a chance to use the NorShor back in the mid-90s when I needed a place to stage a very dark comedy by Arthur Kopit called "Road to Nirvana." I was working downtown at the time, and I saw that majestic, rusty, crumbling marquee every day.

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It had been closed for over a year after former Duluth News Tribune theater critic Dominic Papatola starred in a production of "True West" there. (Cause and effect? Perhaps, although you had to give Dominic credit. He actually got up on the stage and showed all of us Twin Ports theater folks how bad acting really DOES cause a show, and an audience, to suffer.)

I wasn't sure how to go about getting permission to use the grand old space, so I just went the direct route: I called Eric Ringsred and asked him. He said sure, as long as we cleaned it up. I enthusiastically agreed.

I didn't figure it could be too dirty in there, it had been closed for only a year. But the more we rolled up our sleeves, the more we realized what a horror we had entered into. An interesting, fascinating horror, but a horror nonetheless.

The creepy factor didn't lie in the cleaning (I used to work labor crew at the Arena. I cleaned up after monster truck audiences, circus elephants, and Barry Manilow. Nothing shocked me.), but in the building itself. There were so many grimy hidden passageways, creaky stairs that descended into tiny locked rooms with curtained-off brown toilets, and crunchy trails of dead and semi-dead cockroaches, that all the romantic ideas I had of the life of a vaudevillian soon ran screaming from my soul.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the NorShor is coming back to life. In fact, I can't wait to get back in there and produce some Rubber Chicken Theater shows. I'm just not going downstairs. Let the Duluth Playhouse deal with that.

Oh, and by the way, Dominic? I still have your copy of "An Actor Prepares" I found backstage while I was cleaning in 1995. Still looks brand new!

Brian Matuszak has been difficult and demanding since February 2008. He is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre, founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, and he has encountered many types of cockroaches over the years as a theater producer in Duluth. Not all of them scuttle about on six legs, either.

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