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Cinematic Magic: The Oriental Theatre

Aug. 16, 2012
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Popcorn and toilet paper: Don't be surprised if you see either of these items flying at the movie screens at the Oriental Theatre. Whether it's a screening of the interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show or an independent film, this theater has a long history of engaging entertainment.

Located on Farwell Avenue on Milwaukee's East Side, the Oriental Theatre opened its doors on July 2, 1927. Named after its design, the theater is decorated in an East Indian theme, which includes statues of Buddha, elephants and porcelain lions. Gustave A. Dick and Alex Bauer adorned the theater not only with statues reflecting East Indian design elements, but also with murals, lavish drapery and sparkling chandeliers. The Oriental also plays music from its Kimball Organ—the largest of its kind in a theater in the United States.

The theater currently contains three screening rooms and a large balcony with additional seating. In addition to showing current films, the theater hosts monthly showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show—a tradition that dates back to 1978, upon the movie's original release. The monthly tradition includes live actors and an interactive audience component. Patrons are allowed—and encouraged—to throw props at the screen in line with the movie's theme. "Survival Kits," which may include toilet paper, rice or noisemakers, can be purchased at the theater at the time of the show.

It's not all about movies, either. Many bands and musicians have played concerts at the Oriental over the years. National acts such as Blondie, R.E.M., Devo, Iggy Pop and Supertramp have performed there. After losing their opening act, The Pretenders asked some local musicians to play their show. The local act ended up being The Violent Femmes, and this gig was a big break in their career.

Locals know that the Oriental Theatre is one of Milwaukee's greatest landmarks. The theater has also been voted into "Top 10" lists on a national level. It's a treasured place to take in a good movie in beautiful surroundings.


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