The Fox Theater in Bakersfield dates to 1930, a grand old venue that presented some of the first talking motion pictures. Nearly a century later, the Fox hosts concerts, comedy, movies and community events, including local ballet companies and school graduations.
The venue is dark now, shut down because of the coronavirus crisis. With no events, what did the Fox display on its marquee?
“It was blank,” theater manager Matthew Spindler said. “I never felt good about putting something up.”
Until Sunday, that is, when the marquee suddenly displayed this message:
LET’S GO DODGERS
The Fox is part of the National Independent Venue Assn. (NIVA), which formed two weeks ago to represent more than 800 community halls, including such institutions as the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Preservation Jazz Hall in New Orleans, and Bowery Ballroom in New York. As the scope of the coronavirus crisis became increasingly dire, NIVA pleaded for inclusion in federal relief programs.
“Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for handouts,” the association’s president wrote to Congress last week. “But because of our unprecedented, tenuous position, for the first time in history there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”
At the same time, Spindler and his staff brainstormed ways to pay bills that go on even when the show does not. The Fox invited residents to rent the marquee for a day, to brighten spirits around town.
“Whether it be an inspirational quote, lyrics from a song, a special graduation message, a dare to your favorite artist, or a confession of love,” the invitation reads, “we hope you’ll help us preserve this historic landmark and allow us to continue making memories for our community now and in the future.”
Spindler thought about what message he would put up.
“The only thing I was thinking about,” he said, “was how much I hated the Astros.”
The Astros were scheduled to play the Angels on April 3, and thousands of Dodgers fans planned to assemble at Angel Stadium to boo the Astros. Spindler would have been one of them, and he had explained to his staff why he would not be on hand that night at the Fox.
“I have to go to Anaheim to start the cheating chants,” he said.
That opportunity was lost, but the marquee program offered another. Spindler said he wanted to raise awareness of the theater’s precarious financial situation, but he also wanted to generate smiles during a stressful time.
So, for the first day of the marquee program, he taunted the Astros in the front and promoted NIVA on the side (“SAVE OUR STAGES”).
He also taunted former San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner about the incident last June when the Dodgers’ Max Muncy hit a home run off him into the San Francisco Bay and the two exchanged words while Muncy trotted around the bases (HEY MADBUM GET IT OUT OF THE OCEAN) and saluted the Dodgers’ legendary broadcaster, Vin Scully, with his trademark greeting: “IT’S TIME FOR DODGER BASEBALL.”
“I didn’t want a cliché message that’s been done before,” Spindler said. “I was hoping to get people to think about what we should have been thinking and talking about before this COVID situation started.
“Baseball is American, and trash talking between teams is what we should be doing.”