Grand Rapids Public Museum to celebrate Halloween with theater showings

Silent 'Phantom of the Opera' film to be accompanied by live organ

By Tasman Mattox | 10/1/17 10:29pm

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GVL / Courtesy - Monte Fowler

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) will host two Halloween showings of the 1925 movie "The Phantom of the Opera" Friday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. in the Meijer Theater. 

“It’s a family event for people to come out and get in the spirit of Halloween, but also get to see something you don’t usually get to see,” said Christie Bender, GRPM’s director of marketing. 

"The Phantom of the Opera" from 1925 is an American silent horror film that has since been restored. 

“I mentioned this one because in all the venues I’ve played, the largest audiences came to it,” said Andrew Rogers, the guest organist. 

While the showing may frighten children, Bender said there is also room for laughter.

“It will be a little scary for those younger audiences, but silent films always have that comedic relief of being dramatized because it’s silent," Bender said.

Rogers, a traveling organist, will be playing a Mighty Wurlitzer organ that the GRPM counts as part of its collection. 

“It brings the movie to life utilizing more of your senses. Essentially, in the late 1800s (through) 1930s, theater organs were used specifically for silent films,” Bender said, explaining the history and addition of Mighty Wurlitzer organs. “There are lots of buttons, so people are using both hands and both feet at all times, which is incredible to watch. There are a lots of different sound effects built into the organ.”

Bender said Rogers' skills and specialty pair very well with the Halloween event, which he has played for in the past.

“Rogers has performed before for our concert,” Bender said. “You need a pretty high skill set within being an organist to be able to play a Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ. He’s a well-trained performance artist who has put on a great show in the past. He specializes in playing organ accompanied to silent films.”

“I used to work for Wurlitzer,” Rogers said of his first experience with the instruments. “Then I got bit by the bug and actually wanting to learn how to play.”

Learning to play along with a silent film isn’t easy, however. Rogers describes it as an arduous process that takes much time. 

“It’s always frustrating and scary at first, but as I watch the film every day and play through it every day, the ideas come, and it becomes more fun," he said. "Getting into each of the characters makes a difference in how I approach the film. I really start to care about them.” 

When it comes to students who might be interested in pursuing a career in music, Rogers cited colleague Russ Collins, executive director of the historic Michigan Theater.

“He said, ‘People will tell you to have a backup plan. My advice is don’t have a backup plan. Jump into it and you start swimming. Go from there,’” Rogers said.

The GRPM fosters a similar mission of encouraging passion and curiosity.

“We are a community institution that is here to educate and entertain people of all ages,” Bender said. “We offer a variety of experiences that are here to help people learn more and get inspired.”

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