Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

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Many props, items and costumes are donated by dedicated citizens.

A female spirit who loved this theatre now volunteers.

 

DESCRIPTION

Kalamazoo Civic Theatre is described as being a “long-standing performing-arts hub featuring musicals, comedies & dramas, plus acting classes.”

The Civic is a “community theatre”, which means that all of the actors, running crews, and ushers needed to present a production are members of the community who volunteer their time. Volunteering at the Civic is fun, and a terrific way to serve the community.

We visited The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre in the summer of 2007 and were impressed with its marvelous condition!

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, also called The Civic Auditorium and The Civic, is well maintained. It shines as a totally renovated 1929 solid grey granite block building, with carvings on the front to suggest a circus tent, including a carving around the doorways reminding one of tent flaps.

The interior is laid out in a practical manner, with no wasted space. Inside there is auditorium seating for five hundred theatre enthusiasts, featuring highlights of imported limestone in its decor, and lead crystal chandeliers imported from Yugoslavia long ago.

The Side lounge is a versatile area used for many events, including art shows, meetings and as a place for theatre patrons to hang out during intermission.

The Green Room is where the actors prepare themselves before going on-stage. The murals along the walls add to the fun of the room.

Dressing Rooms have enough room for ninety performers per show.

Control booths for lighting and sound are at the back of the auditorium.

The Kalamazoo Civic has been and continues to be a “cultural cornerstone” that has offered high quality stage performances for ninety years that have entertained and inspired over 30,000 community patrons.

Over 1,000 volunteers have dedicated 50,000 hours of their spare time in the preparation and showing of many fine stage performances.

Their annual budget is a whopping $1,900,000. There are currently thirty-five full and part time employees, along with dozens of professionals who work on a “contractual basis.”

The Civic invests in the future of stage performances by being a “training ground” for young thespians and designers, proudly stating on their website that they helped to launch many careers in acting, designing and behind the scenes professions.

After the scaling back of Covid restrictions for educational classes, Kalamazoo Civic is back in the saddle with new opportunities for learning and developing skills that people will need for the stage during the summer of 2021. The Civic Academy of the Arts offers educational opportunities for every age group; ages three to adults. Skills Camps, and Performance Camps sound like a lot of fun for preschoolers through Junior High. Grades 9-12 and adults are challenged by what is called Summer Intensives.

While the Civic can’t present shows in their theatre as before because of Covid restrictions are in place in Michigan as of June of 2021, they have plans to present shows outside in the Green Space of Carver Center and by streaming. They state on their website:

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re not able to produce theatre shows as we have for over ninety years. With that being said, we have put together a truncated season consisting of live stream productions and shows that will be presented outdoors. We can’t wait for the time when we can all be together and enjoy theatre as we know it. Until then, we look forward to spending time with you virtually.”

Their first outdoor performance took place on Sunday, June 13th, at 5:45 pm. While it was free, tickets were needed to assure the mandatory social distancing. It was also streamed. “Friends of the Civic” got first crack at the free tickets for this first show of the 2021-22 season.

 

HISTORY

The non-profit Kalamazoo Civic Theatre has grown and evolved throughout the years, offering the community opportunities to participate and enjoy the musical and dramatic elements of thespian endeavors, as well as offering internships, theatre and dance classes, and opportunities to volunteer.

It started in the summer of 1929 as a tiny, determined group of people, including founders Dorothy Dalton, Norman Carver Sr., Howard Chenery, Ruth Noble, Paul Fuller, Louise Carver, and Jean Huston.

This dedicated group of thespian enthusiasts began their theatre by offering the community a few plays in Lincoln School auditorium. The Kalamazoo community embraced their theatre, starting a long history of financial support, which hasn’t wavered for 70 years!

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre continued to grow, despite the Great Depression and World War 2, bouncing forward with the ever changing flow of life and circumstances, evolving in their dramatic and musical offerings, always finding ways to serve the community and survive through tough financial times.

During World War 2, The Civic toured neighboring communities as a way to reach out to people with theatrical performances and to support the war effort.

Over the years, The Kalamazoo Civic’s productions have won awards:

In 1983, their production of FOOLS won first place in the State and Regional AACT/Fest competition. Fools went to the next level of competition in the National Festival, winning second place in the National Competition. Not quite done, the Civic was invited to perform FOOLS at an international theatre festival in England, representing the United States.

In 1994, They performed DANCING AT LUGHNASA on stage, which also found great success on the festival circuit, winning State, Regional, and National Competitions, partly because of the outstanding performance of the actors but also because of the design of the production.

The Kalamazoo Civic has grown to be one of the premier theatres of its type, known as a leader in the ranks of community theatre, “a major cultural institution in southwest Michigan.” In 2005, they hosted AACTFest 2005, the national theatre festival. “Over 500 theatre lovers from around the world traveled to Kalamazoo to see some amazing community theatre productions, attend workshops and make new friends.”

Some past stage productions have included THE WIZARD OF OZ, ON GOLDEN POND, THE ODD COUPLE, AVENUE Q, THE FOURSOME, SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD and LITTLE WOMEN (the musical).

Youth Theatre has its own season offerings. Some past stage productions include Disney’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING and HOLES.

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Spirits can become attached to their former personal items that are given to a museum or theater.

Castleton University Fine Arts Center, VT (The Furniture Closet located at the back of the Green Room seems to inspire a lot of spectral activity; probably because of what is kept there; i.e. former favorite possessions of spirits).

The Clayton House Museum, AR (The spirit of Powell Clayton likes to visit his brother William’s office because a book that Powell wrote is on display. He also likes to look at the four portraits of the Clayton brothers hanging on the office wall).

The Thayer Home, Building 100, West Point, MD (A rocking chair is a favorite item that the spirit of a past president likes to sit in, when he visits this home of the Superintendent of West Point Military Academy).

Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, MI (The spirit of Thelma, a past volunteer and actress when alive, likes to keep an eye on all the costumes and props that she donated. She may have worn these items herself in past productions).

 

People who while alive loved to be involved with any of the aspects of the theatre experience, sometimes decide to reside in their favorite theatre in their spirit afterlife. They find ways to be active in a craft that they loved).

Elsinore Theatre, OR (Having a theatrical “Full House,” thrills the in-house spirits who still find ways to help. The first Owner still oversees with enthusiasm the staff and performers).

Pittsburgh Theatre, PA (A male thespian, John Johns, a popular actor at this playhouse, died suddenly of a heart attack at a banquet held here, but still loves this place, is still excited about upcoming productions. and tries to be useful to living thespians and their productions).

Saint John’s Twin Cinema and Pub, OR (A murdered Vaudevillian Actor yearns to be back on stage. He tries to be a positive, supportive force, and watches over the owners and staff. He tries to be helpful and part of the team).

Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, MI (A volunteer, Thelma Merton who helped with the back stage costumes and props while alive, isn’t letting the fact that she is a spirit now stop her from doing what she loved to do. She enjoys all aspects of theatre stage productions and loves to watch the performances as well).

 

MANIFESTATIONS

Personal experiences from people who were and are involved with the Kalamazoo Civic productions have shared their personal stories with writers found listed in the SOURCES INCLUDE section: Mark Frankhouse for wkfr.com, and Simon A. Thalman, who updated his article for mlive.com in 2019.

Other websites give a nice summary of all of the spirit of Thelma’s activities here, such as John Robinson’s article found on 99wfmk.com.

Jenn, a blogger, has worked behind the scenes of productions and also acted in plays on the Kalamazoo stage. Ben Zylman, Director Jim Carver and Janet Gover were also long-time professionals who shared their paranormal experiences.

Better Respect Helpful Thelma Mertz

The Spirit of Thelma is accepted and much loved among the people involved at the Kalamazoo Civic.

Those who may not be appreciative of her, learn quickly to be so as they have opened themselves up to be teased playfully by this spirit.

Blogger Jenn shared;”They used to tell us not to tick off ‘Thelma’ because she would mess up your show if you did.”

“However, she’s really saved the butts of some performers and crew members during shows.”

Appearance and Contact

Jenn shares; “I personally have had three run-ins with Thelma, including one where she spoke to me. I had no idea I was talking to a ghost until she disappeared! This kind of experience is so common that at one time they mentioned her in the new volunteer orientation class.”

“Well, I was in a production of “Steel Magnolias” and had several quick costume changes, so an hour before the show I had to check and make sure all my costume pieces were set where they needed to be during the play.”

“I was doing this before one performance when I saw an older woman standing in one of the wings. It was way before show time, and I knew the lobby wasn’t even open yet, so I asked her if she was lost.”

“She laughed and said “Oh, no I think I know my way around here pretty well.” Then she turned away, chuckling, and completely disappeared before my eyes.

Box Three: A Personal Favor

Apparently, Thelma is a take charge kind of spirit person who steps in to be a source of help when really needed.

The spirit of Thelma helped to save a costume.

Jenn continues; “Later, during the run of that same show, a pipe burst in my dressing room and flooded the cubby hole where I had stowed my wig and the pregnancy suit I had to wear in the second act.”

“I was the first to discover the flood, and I found that all my things had been carefully moved from where I’d left them the night before to a safe, dry shelf across the room.”

“The theatre staff insisted no one had been in the dressing rooms all day long.”

Tries to Help

Ben Zylman, director of marketing and development for the theater, was standing on the stage with an out of town visitor, having a chat.

When it was time to leave, he told the visitor that he would walk her out after he turned off the working lights that were located fifty feet away on the wall.

Suddenly, the lights were turned off, thanks to helpful Thelma!

Caught in the Act

Apparently, Thelma enjoys making music, and must have some memories of the stage.

While Jim Carver was alone in the theatre, he heard the piano in the Green Room being played.

The piano playing continued until he opened the door of the Green Room. The music stopped abruptly. No one living was there.

The Spirit of Thelma perhaps was also an actress.

While alone in the buildings, Jim Carver was working in the Trap Room located under the stage when he heard footsteps walking across the stage above.

Perhaps Thelma was remembering a favorite role she had on this stage.

Interest in Technology

In another late night incident, Carver was up in the lighting booth, working on lighting cues for an upcoming show, when he felt a presence standing right behind him.

When he quickly looked, no one living was there.

Makes Herself Known

Janet Gover is currently a major accounts and classified sales manager at the Kalamazoo Gazette as her day job, but has long been involved in Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. She knows from personal experience that Thelma is a real spirit.

Back in the early years of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond, Janet Gover was an active thespian and behind the scenes technician was preparing to run the sound and the camera as they were getting ready to record a Civic production of “Deathtrap.” No one was on the stage, or so she thought.

Janet happened to look at the image of the stage in the camera and saw a “figure of a person,” dressed in a floppy hat and long coat.

Looking on the empty stage, and then at the figure being picked up on the camera feed, she knew it was the house spirit.

A visitor who was taking a tour of the back stage area saw a solid-looking woman wearing a hat and a long black dress; a costume. Imagine her surprise when this lady disappeared suddenly.

Tom Foolery for Spectral Laughs

Janet Gover was also an actress in the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre productions.

In the 1990s, she played a character in the stage production of “Singin’ in the Rain”.

During her on stage performance in one of the scenes, some unseen hands were slowly pulling off her hat.

Janet explains, “It wasn’t a hat that would come off unless I took it off.” I really felt like somebody was just slowly pulling it straight up off my head.”

When her hat came off, she didn’t break her focus and just made it part of her performance, just like the professional thespian she was would do; never breaking character

For other chuckles, Thelma sometimes moves items like props from where they were last left by the living. She is fascinated by electricity; playing with the lights to let all know that she is there with them.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

People who work and perform in this theatre have had many experiences and even a few run-ins with the spirit of Thelma Mertz over the years. Jenn the blogger actually talked to her, thinking she was a real person.

The Civic refuses to let paranormal investigators into the theatre to investigate because they already know who is there, and do not want to upset her. She is the beloved spirit of the Kalamazoo Civic and is well appreciated by all who work and perform here.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

Most Probably so!

 

Directors, thespians, pre-production assistants and backstage visitors have had boatloads of experiences with the spirit of Thelma over the years. She thoroughly enjoys the place where she has chosen to spend her afterlife.

 

Jim Carver has said, “There are too many unexplained things that have happened over the years not to believe there really is a ghost in the building.”

 

And while Thelma sometimes get some mild chuckles from the jokes she plays on the living, most of the time Thelma is helpful and curious about everyone’s job. She loves everything about the theatre and enjoys being around theater folk as they work together to produce stage performances. She looks for opportunities to be helpful as well.

 

LOCATION

329 South Park Street
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
(269) 343-1313

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, can be found in the historic part of Kalamazoo on S. Park St., between W. Lovell St. and W. South Street.

Note: Downtown Kalamazoo has a lot of one way streets, so be sure to have a good map, or you may take many scenic tours of lovely downtown Kalamazoo.

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • weirdmichigan.com
  • www.mlive.com
  • wkfr.com
  • sthalman@mlive.com
  • kazoocivic.com
  • The ghost of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre: Who’s
  • afraid of Thelma Mertz? By Simon A. Thalmann
  • Haunted Kalamazoo: The Civic Theatre’s Resident Ghost, by Mark Frankhouse, Published: October 9, 2019
  • The ghost of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre: Who’s afraid of Thelma Mertz?
    Updated Jan 21, 2019; Posted Oct 30, 2011, By Simon A. Thalmann | sthalman@mlive.com
    https://www.mlive.com/living/kalamazoo/2011/10/the_ghost_of_the_kalamazoo_civ.html
  • Haunted Kalamazoo: The Civic Theatre’s Resident Ghost, by Mark Frankhouse, Published: October 9, 2019
    https://wkfr.com/haunted-kalamazoo-the-civic-theatres-resident-ghost/

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Michigan