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Resourcefulness And Thrift Keep Egyptian Theatre From Going The Way Of The Pharaohs

A historical theater in Coos Bay with distinctive Egyptian motifs is riding out the pandemic as best it can. 

Up in an environmentally-controlled room filled with large silver tubes and musical instruments, Kara Long presses a few hidden buttons.

One row creates a high-pitched piccolo sound. Another is for tuba.  

“So you got the smallest to the largest.”

It’s all part of the organ system, installed at the Egyptian Theatre in 1925 and powered by an immense fan under the main stage.  Elsewhere, ornate hieroglyphics and black statues of Anubis  adorn the golden walls and stairs.  Built during the 1920s when King Tutankhamen and ancient Egypt were all the rage, the theater is a rarity today, but not extinct.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Kara Long, executive director of the Egyptian Theatre, on its stage. Musical and comedy acts take place here, as well as movies.

As executive director, Long said she’s eager to fill up all 720 seats some day after the pandemic,  but for now, they’re coasting by with federal aid.

“We did receive some grants that helped us pay utilities.  Last year we probably were in the $50,000-$60,000 range.  And this year we had a PPP loan at the beginning of January, I think it was under 20 (thousand.)”

Long says the Small Business Administration is also opening up its application portal this week for the Shuttered Venues Grant, which has $16 billion in grants to support struggling stages, auditoriums, and movie theaters.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Hand-shaped tubes create many of the orchestral sounds emitted by the Wurlitzer organ installed in 1925.

In the meantime, Long keeps her hours to 10 a week (the janitor comes in for half that time) and she coordinates fundraisers and delivers “Random Acts of Popcorn” as part of sponsored events. 

She told KLCC that when the pandemic is over, she wants to show movies like Elf again, no matter what time of year it is.  Past viewings have been combined with charity drives, including one showing that had attendees throw balls of socks at each other during Elf’s famed snowball fight.

“After everyone was done, they were collected, washed, and given to the homeless,” recalled Long.  “3200 pairs given out.”

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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