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The Variety Theatre: An After the Final Curtain Photography Workshop

Posted: 03rd February 2015

I'm excited to announce that I will be partnering to instruct photography workshops at two amazing locations with Matt Lambros, creator of one of my favorite websites, After the Final Curtain. A graduate of Boston University's Digital Imaging and Photojournalism programs, Lambros' has been photographing abandoned buildings since 2003. The After the Final Curtain project began in 2009 as a part of an effort to raise awareness for the plight of endangered theaters and to aid in the efforts to restore and reopen them.

Location: Variety Theater, Cleveland, OH
Dates/Times Available:
April 11, 2015 10:00 AM - 3:30 PM SOLD OUT
April 12, 2015 10:00 AM - 3:30 PM SOLD OUT
Cost: $150/ea.

The Site: The Variety Theatre opened on November 24, 1927 in the Jefferson neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. It was built by Sam Stecker, Meyer Fine and Abe Kramer of the Variety Amusement Company. The 1,900 seat theater was designed in the Spanish gothic style by Cleveland-based architect Nicola Petti, who also designed the nearby Cedar Lee Theatre. As the Variety was built for both motion pictures and vaudeville, it included an orchestra pit as well as dressing rooms. The Community Circuit Theaters Co. ran the theater from 1954 until 1976, when it was purchased by Russell Koz. Koz ran the theater as a second run theater until the early 1980s before switching over to a music venue, primarily rock and roll bands.

While the Variety was a music venue many now famous bands played there, including Slayer, Metallica, the Dead Kennedys, R.E.M, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Motorhead. During a performance by Motorhead the music was so loud it cracked the ceiling and plaster rained down on the crowd. The power had to be cut to stop the band from playing. A judge ordered the theater closed in 1986 due to complaints from the neighborhood. The Variety was last used as a wrestling gym called the Cleveland Wrestleplex before closing for good in the late 1980s.

In 2002 a local councilwoman, Dona Brady, recognized the need to restore the Variety Theatre. Brady worked with Gretchen Moore, a commercial director at Westown Community Development Corporation, to establish the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre, a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring the theater. The Friends raised funds to have a replica marquee built based on photographs of the original, but it has yet to be installed. The group was able to purchase the building on June 12, 2009, after receiving grants and other funding. The apartments in the theater complex have been restored, and are being rented to supplement the restoration of the building. The Variety Theatre will become a multi-use venue when the restoration is complete. [Site description by Matt Lambros] This location and its history are also featured in a chapter in my book, Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream.

The Workshop: During the workshop Matt Lambros and I will be on hand to help you get better shots - these environments can be pretty tough to navigate photographically and I encourage you to come with questions. The auditorium and lobby are well lit, but if you'd like to shoot in the projection room or backstage you will need to bring your own light. I know some of you are just taking the tour to see the location, and if that's the case we'll stay out of your way and let you do your thing, but we will be on hand to offer individualized instruction for the duration of the event. Learning to use a tripod, what file format to shoot in, how to compose shots better, what ISO, F-Stop, and shutter speed affect, and how to do things like exposure bracketing are very important to your results. Don't feel afraid to ask us even questions that may seem silly to you. We want you to leave with pictures you're proud of.

Safety: You need to be very aware of your safety. I encourage you to always pay attention to your surroundings. A site manager will be on hand and following their directions is critical. If you do not you may be asked to leave the site. You will be asked to sign a waiver before you enter acknowledging that you are entering a potentially unsafe environment and that you will not hold either the owners or myself liable for any harm that may befall you or your equipment. Obviously the first priority on the trip, even before taking great pictures, is making sure that you are safe - but you will need to be the one looking out for that. Please note this environment has mold and dust that may be problematic for people with allergies or respiratory conditions and factor that into your decision whether or not to attend. Respirators are highly recommended.

What to bring:
- respirator/dust mask (recommended)
- for darker areas, flashlights and/or an external flash (a flash cable wouldn't hurt too)
- a bottle of water
- sturdy boots that protect your feet
- your tripod
- a fully charged cell phone
- your camera manual if you're unsure how to change settings. I can help you find the information you need in the manual but most cameras have their own ways of accessing features and changing settings and that makes things a lot easier.
- It's not necessary but a remote shutter switch is a nice thing to have and you can get a cheap one on Amazon for about $6 depending on your camera.

By signing up you agree to the following terms: Please make sure you check the email associated with your Paypal account for confirmation/updates! Your Paypal receipt is your confirmation, an email will follow with further details no less than a week prior to the event. You will need to sign a waiver to participate in this event, a sample of which can be found here. By signing up for this workshop you agree not to use information attained before or during the workshop to illegally trespass or set up alternate workshops/events. Because of the extremely limited tour spots there are NO REFUNDS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES if you have signed up for the tour except in case of workshop cancellation by Abandoned America. You may give a paid spot in the workshop to someone else if you are unable to attend but admission may not be transferred to another event. There is always a possibility that the workshop may need to be moved to a different date based on severe inclement weather or site manager's limitations. If this is the case notification will be given immediately and a refund will be offered if attendee is unable to make the alternate date. We cannot be held liable for travel, rental, or other costs incurred by attendee in the event of workshop cancellation. We do make every effort to ensure all events run on schedule. All sales are final.

If you have questions or are thinking about signing up, please read the Workshop FAQ Page! Send me a note at admin@abandonedamerica.org if you need to know anything else. If the PayPal link is immediately below this there are still open spots.

APRIL 11, 2015 10 AM - 3:30 PM
APRIL 12, 2015 10 AM - 3:30 PM
SOLD OUT - More dates coming soon

If you are interested in purchasing an Abandoned America print, please follow this link!


Photo comment By Blonde John: The Ohio Theatre in Toledo is under the process of restoration...One of the last neighborhood theatres left here...They have a great pipe organ that's been installed and they hope for more.
Photo comment By Dan: What really would be special, is to have a listening party there. People could pay to sit there and listen to audio from old concerts from years ago while they sip beers. As a metallica fan, I would love to be in that place and hear audio from the 1985 show they did there and just sit there and soak up the history

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