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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Gaslight Theatre blends nostalgia and Western charm

    Turki Allugman
    Turki Allugman / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Lone Stranger show took place at the Gaslight Theater with an active interaction from the audience.

    At first, it was just a red barn with room to seat 100 audience members. The historic Gaslight Theatre was started in 1977, thanks to a group of UA colleagues.

    A 24-year-old UA student, Tony Terry Jr. and some of his closest friends from the university’s drama department crafted a troupe that founded the Gaslight Theatre in 1977. However, over time, the theater grew out of its initial location and moved to its current home, where it has been since 1980.

    The Gaslight Theatre operates as a small business, which means all funds are made from the sale of tickets, food and beverages. This is the only theater in Arizona with this business model. Nationally, Terry said he only knows of one other theater in Salt Lake City that operates in a similar manner.

    “It’s a difficult, difficult business,” Terry said. However, it isn’t the theater’s history or operating standards that make this place unique.

    The Gaslight Theatre is located on one of Tucson’s busiest streets, Broadway Boulevard, making it hard to miss. The building’s exterior establishes that the theater is different than other places in Tucson. The windows surrounding the building are barred like those of an old jailhouse.

    Near the entrance, there are cardboard cutouts of cowboys and cowgirls so visitors can take pictures.As audience members approach the theater’s entrance, the outside porch’s floorboards creak.

    The current show, “The Lone Stranger,” opened to the public on Jan. 10 and will run through March 31 and can be seen Tuesday through Sunday.

    The building’s aged, wooden skeleton looks like something out of an old Western movie, but this is not a place one would come across in the heart of Tucson. Tucson is more known for its city life and as a college town. It is not a tourist attraction that out-of-towners visit to relive the old, Wild West days of the 1800s, yet that is exactly what those visiting Gaslight may find.

    While waiting for the the thick, red curtains to rise, the band’s piano player welcomes attendees with cheerful music.

    “We play for sold out and appreciative audiences every night,” said Linda Ackermann, Gaslight’s pianist of 17 years.

    Waitresses in red corsets, dressed as saloon girls, greet audience members at the red-and-white checkered tables with menus, soft drink options and baskets filled with popcorn.

    Audience members are encouraged to laugh and gasp along with the cast during a show.
    “My favorite part of the theater is underscoring. That means I come up with and play the background music to set the mood,” Ackermann said.

    But the cast also recognizes that mistakes happen and by playing it off, the audience can laugh that much more.

    “The audience doesn’t expect it. They watch and laugh when we mess up or forget lines. Whereas at other theaters, it’s frowned upon,” said Mike Yarema, who has been acting at Gaslight for 14 years.
    Yarema added that the theater is fast-paced, full of energy and every night is different.

    The theater encourages improvisation and while slip-ups may seem embarrassing, Yarema said that it’s not that bad and the audience loves it.

    “[The theater] makes me laugh. It’s a casual and friendly-type atmosphere,” said Nancy Cyr, a long-time Gaslight audience member.

    To ensure you won’t forget the show, souvenir mugs, T-shirts, assorted candy and shot glasses arranged on an old, Western wagon are available for purchase at the exit.

    Behind the scenes, cast and crewmembers get ready to leave, but they will return the next day to a place Terry loosely calls “work.”

    “Performing together is so comfortable. We’re kinda like a family,” Yarema said.

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