Spotlight on the Craterian
by Ashley Johnson
Medford, Ore. – Ambiance, class, belly-aching laughter, enchanting music, jaw-clenching drama, and education capture the dynamic stage night after night. The Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for Performing Arts, located at 23 S. Central Ave. in downtown Medford, is a membership-based, not-for-profit, historic theater that puts on a myriad of events. Performances, rehearsals, classes, conferences, receptions, parties, and seminars are just some of the exciting opportunities offered. They aim to raise community pride and enhance cultural opportunities in the region by operating a state of the art facility. As a forum for community events, the theater welcomes local, regional, and national performing artists.
A historical landmark, the theater uses an array of theatrical equipment, high quality acoustics, and is operated by professional staff. They are helping to anchor the downtown urban renewal and bring culture to the community as a whole. With a very rich and fascinating history, the Craterian is both enthralling and riveting.
The building was designed in Spanish Colonial style by Frank C. Clark in 1924. Intended for business, it housed law offices, shops, and a theater that was leased by George A. Hunt. As part of the theater promotion, Hunt had a naming contest, offering a $25 prize to the winner. He chose “Craterian” because of nearby Crater Lake. The grand opening was on Oct. 20, 1924 and brought in a sell out audience of over 1200 people. They came to see the play “The Havoc” and listen to grand organ music by Grace “Betty” Brown.
The theater soon installed projectors for silent film showings. They booked Vaudeville and theatrical acts, which happened to include an iconic up and coming actress, Ginger Rogers. Born Virginia Katherine McMath, Rogers was a young and beautiful 15-year-old when she took the Craterian stage on April 21, 1926, just 18 months after the theater opened. She had won a statewide Charleston dance competition in Dallas in 1925 and became part of a six month theater tour of one night performances. Rogers eventually landed on Broadway and then Hollywood, appearing in 73 movies. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1941 for her role in Kitty Foyle, made in 1940. Rogers’ love of Oregon led to her purchase of a ranch near Shady Cove, and later a home on Pioneer Road in Medford. The self-proclaimed Oregonian did an interview with Al Reiss on the Craterian stage on Nov. 21, 1993 to benefit the theater’s rebirth.
That rebirth came after years of changes and hardships. When the depression hit, Hunt sold the theater to the Fox chain, but returned in 1933 after they went bankrupt. He remodeled the Craterian, lowered matinee prices, and hosted community events in an effort to rejuvenate it. After several operator and owner changes over the years and more building alterations, the invention of home televisions and multi-screen theaters in the 1970’s took a huge toll and the theater audience greatly diminished.
By 1985, the building was given to the Rogue Valley Art Association. A few years later the Craterian Performances Co. was formed. Non-profit and volunteer based, their goal was to create a performing arts center with modern facilities for multi purposes. Over 600 people and businesses, along with state, county, and city urban renewal agencies, pledged $5.2 million for a renovation that took place in 1996. The amazing theater that stands today opened in March of 1997 and has put on countless unforgettable performances since. From comedian and The Price is Right host Drew Carey, to a production of the musical Annie, to Christian music artists Mercy Me, the Craterian has something for everyone.
The theater also partners with four different local performing art companies. The Rogue Valley Chorale, formed in 1973, offers concerts in a wide variety of genres. If the symphony interests you, the Rogue Valley Symphony is a professional orchestra directed by Martin Majkut that is sure to leave an impression. The Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon offers professional classic music, while the Rogue Opera brings high quality national and international talent to the stage.
The theater has numerous sponsors throughout the Rogue Valley that make these productions possible. There are many ways to support the Craterian, which include becoming a member, volunteering, and donating.
There is no specific dress code at the theater, but some symphony and Broadway shows tend to give people an excuse to “dress for the theater”. Anything from casual to Sunday best is appropriate. Cameras and recording devices are not allowed in the theater and are asked to be checked in before entrance. The play Thoroughly Modern Millie is currently wrapping up, and comedian Lewis Black will take the stage on Sunday, March 9. Upcoming shows include PFX: The Pink Floyd Experience on March 26, Hair in April, and The Barber of Seville opera in May. The box office is located at 16 S. Bartlett St., around the corner from the theater, and is open on non-performance days Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. On event days, it is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. until performance time, and Sunday through Monday noon until performance time. For tickets to a show or more information, please call the box office at 541-779-3000 or visit them online at craterian.org. See you at the show!