Here’s lookin’ at you, Vic

DCP’s theatre critic Jacqui Theobald reminisces

By Jacqui Theobald

Old theaters. There is something special about them, whether it’s a storied Broadway house or our very own Victoria. Even if there has been a renovation, they smell a little different. They often boast velvet seats, perhaps new and spiffy, perhaps a little worn around the edges. Usually with a proscenium arch stage, they may or may not use a curtain, but still may be draped in elegance and looped with gold cording and thick tassels on the sides. It has a unique ambiance entirely different from a contemporary building.

Daytonians have been involved with the Turner Opera House, the Music Hall, the Grand Opera House, the Victory and the Victoria. Different names and different eras with different focus and entertainment styles, but one theater that has affected many parts of our community over the years.

I talked to almost everyone I encountered recently, taking a very informal survey; no statistics, no margins. Only a few had never been in for some kind of event. Many said, “Oh nothing special.”

Yet they usually added quickly, “but … the plays! It was the first time I’d ever seen a play on stage.” Or “I just sat there with my mouth open. It was real, kinda like my life, except it was up there.” Or “It was down there, but not too far away. Those were people like my family. Uh-oh.”

Some singular little memory often popped up, even for those who have seen a variety of productions at the corner of Main and First street over the years.

“Years ago,” says Margaret Baird, always a diligent English teacher, “I gave myself a break over one holiday weekend, with a musical movie downtown. Outside on First Street a parade was forming. Every time a band turned the corner to Main, they blasted out with a particularly enthusiastic flurry of horns and we couldn’t hear a thing inside. Even so it was a perfect break from my yet-to-be-graded final papers.”

Sometimes it just was sound. Several commented on the organ … “majestic,” “rich,” “like no other” or, “I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, that organ just gave me shivers.”

“Seeing DCDC at home on this stage felt like being at a very important performance, admired all over the world,” says another.

A long time and frequent  volunteer at one point was an usher and remembers “when I took Mrs. Kettering to her seat she said it was the wrong one. A manager had to be called to make sure she got to the right place, and was satisfied. Considering her enormous financial contribution to the renovation, as well as our general concern, everyone wanted Virginia Kettering to be happy.”

This same volunteer shared her story of being directed to help at the bar in the lobby. “I knew nothing of mixing drinks,” she says. “I thought they would train me. They didn’t and left me to serve wine. I did know the difference between red and white.”

Maribeth Graham was one of the many passionate members of the Victoria Theatre Association who worked night and day to prevent the Victory from being demolished for a parking lot in the mid-seventies. She has a giant box of memorabilia as well as detailed recall of what was done.

The group very cleverly involved almost every organization in Dayton, from Girl Scouts to the Junior League, from NCR to women ringing “victory bells.” One of the first tasks when funds were adequate was repairing the leaking roof. Most involved were also hands-on; scraping off old chewing gum and less savory tasks. Graham, despite personal loss says, “We had to save it! And did. It was more fun!”

I personally remember taking three grandchildren to first see Dayton Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Over the years I have loved researching archival theatre such as 1913 flood stories and even being a little part of history myself. I was one of the writers of an original play that “went downtown” in 1976 for Oakwood High School. We explored the old theatre: the flies above-gnarly hemp and sandbags and the dungeon-like basement. Today’s renovated brightly painted dressing rooms seem so bland. Shabby and grungy had way more intrigue. Whether it generated imagination or nightmares, it said “theatre” in its own way.

Jane Horner of Xenia remembers as a teen getting all dressed up for “important” dates in Dayton, going to the Victory.

The renovated lobby has hosted many celebrations. In 1993 we had a wedding reception there.

Twenty years ago in 1996 when Family Service celebrated its founding they partied at the Victoria, with old pictures and stories and a respect for the history. The agency began in 1896 right here in the then Grand Opera House by civic-minded businessmen who were concerned about the 2,000 unemployed. Those gathered for the Centennial expressed pure delight in the beauty of the Victoria.

Long-time House Manager, David Hastings, with years of memories tells this: “One afternoon I answered the street door and confronted a shabby, oddly dressed bag woman who marched right in, headed for the dressings rooms as I chased behind, ‘Miss, Miss.’ ‘I have to go in for rehearsal. I’m Cloris Leachman,’ she said.”

Whether it’s individuals, groups or a large citizen effort, we share the thought, “I have to go in this theatre.”

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at


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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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