What we saw during the Fox Theatre’s new Behind the Scenes Tour

Take a bow on the stage and kick back on the couches in the dressing rooms of Atlanta’s iconic venue
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Fox Theatre
Photograph by Matt Walljasper

If you’ve ever dreamed of standing on the stage of the fabulous Fox Theatre, a new tour will give you the chance. Throughout June, the 87-year-old theater will guide guests backstage through the behemoth building to spaces normally restricted to crew and performers.

Fox Theatre
The hydraulics are the same used when the Fox opened in 1929

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

The Fox Theatre opened on Christmas Day 1929, a perky tour guide named Alexis explained during a media preview Tuesday night, and the theater staff works hard to maintain the building’s original features and essence. She led our group of 10 down into the lower ladies lounge and opened a door marked “hospital” to a preserved 1920s medical room, where a nurse once tended to injured or ailing performers. (An on-site EMT serves this role today.) Nearby, in an odd juxtaposition of  historic and modern, sinks in the bathroom with original faucets stood opposite Dyson hand dryers.

We moved on to the screening room, which today looks like any office break room, but was once reserved for a censor to screen films to determine if they were appropriate for Atlanta audiences. Alexis pointed out the square holes in the wall that once accommodated projectors, then walked us through concrete halls of production offices, crew offices, and finally to the pit motor room directly below the stage. This room houses a somewhat menacing-looking collection of oily hydraulics that raise and lower the orchestra pit, traps, and other stage components. Like many of the Fox’s pieces, the hydraulics are 1929 originals (the motors, however, are modern).

The original electrical system
The original electrical system

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

Another relic, the theater’s electrical system, stands barricaded behind warning signs. While the Fox has upgraded its technology for safety reasons, Georgia Tech professors still bring engineering students to study the Depression-era system.

A trip in a musty freight elevator (which, everyone joked, reminded them of Disney’s “Tower of Terror”) took us up to the paint shop, where Edna Tillander keeps the Fox looking authentic. A red turret sat on the worktable—it had fallen off the marquee and was being repaired.

In the theater’s dressing room tower, we were invited to the two “star” dressing rooms, lush resting spaces decorated with large vanities, plush couches, and in one, impressive wallpaper made up of theater tickets. A wall in the other room was lined with signed show posters. And in a charming tradition, drawers in the vanities opened to reveal signatures of performers past. (The best in my book: “Dora” from “Dora’s the Explorer’s Pirate Adventure”)

Finally, we headed down the stars to the stage entrance, lined with signed autographs of past performers like Madonna and Whitney Houston. “Play it pretty for Atlanta,” a quote from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, is painted boldly in red above the doorway. “Mighty Mo,” the Fox’s gold organ, greeted us as we admired the view from the stage.

Fox Theatre
Photograph by Matt Walljasper
Your buddy didn't sit here.
Your buddy didn’t sit here.

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

About those “box seats” just off the stage? “If someone one tells you they sat here, they’re lying,” Jamie Vosmeier, the director of ticket sales and service, told us. Those aren’t seats, they house pipes for the organ. A member of the maintenance staff cheerfully informed us how many people it takes to change a proscenium light bulb (three), and as we left, he lit the “ghost light,” a single bulb in the middle of the stage meant to appease the theater’s ghosts after all the patrons have left.

If you want to check out this entertaining slice of Atlanta history (and earn the bragging rights that you sang/did a jig/took a bow on the Fox stage), the limited-time tour runs six dates from June 9 through June 20. Tickets are $45.

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