While today we expect movie theaters just to play movies, this wasn’t always the case. Theaters were more prominent parts of their neighborhoods and hosted all kinds of events. In Tillamook, Oregon in the 1910s, it was not out of the ordinary for films to not play at all on some days at certain theaters. Specifically, at the Gem Theatre, there were quite a few productions from high schools and churches performing things like plays, comedy, and music1. The money made was often raised for charity, such as for the improvement of a park or the graduating senior’s commencement2,3. The plays especially were very popular in the community, with one in particular being “of rare merit. Nearly all the parts were known well and most of them were acted to perfection”4. Another performance was described as being “one of the funniest and most laughable entertainments given [that] winter”5. With the proceeds for that particular performance going towards a new piano for a church, these productions were a significant and popular part of the community.
The first mention of these live performances came on December 2, 1909, along with the news that the Gem had added a stage to the theater6. Since the paper mentions that the stage was built and not previously there, it seems that the owners decided it would be beneficial to add a stage and be able to have productions other than motion pictures. With how competitive the theater business was at the time, perhaps having a stage set the Gem apart and allowed it to gain an advantage over its competitors. The last mention of these local shows seems to come at some time in 1915, so they did not last the whole time the Gem was open. From that time, the focus was more on motion pictures and reels. While that type of setup is unheard of now, it was very popular at the Gem Theatre and many performances were put on there. By combing shows that didn't have to be shown at a movie theater with the resources it had, the Gem was able to stay successful and incorporate potential rivals into its own programming.
1. Tillamook Headlight, May 5, 1910. Page 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.
2. Tillamook Headlight, April 23, 1911. Page 4. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.
3. Tillamook Headlight, May 18, 1911. Page 6. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.
4. Tillamook Headlight, May 25, 1911. Page 6. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.
5. Tillamook Headlight, April 13, 1911. Page 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.
6. Tillamook Headlight, December 2, 1909. Page 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers Database.