In previous blog posts, we looked at two of the most well-known superstitions in the theatre community; these superstitions have an influence across the world and throughout time. However, superstitions can develop in a way that is very specific to one theatre company, emerging from an inside joke or unique occurrence. This week, we explore the story of the Elvis Shrines that call STC home.
Theatre has a well-established history of recognizing ghosts and spirits at play for mishaps onstage. During a 1989 performance of The Beggar’s Opera at STC, a loud noise was heard backstage that needed an explanation. The source, according to then-Assistant Stage Manager Aubrey Brown, was none other than the King of Rock and Roll himself: Elvis Presley. Rather than give up the real culprit, the joke stuck with Stage Manager James Latus. He then decided that, to appease the King and keep future loud mishaps from occurring, a shrine must be erected.
The shrine started simple—a single candle and an Elvis postcard. But as others caught on to the joke, additional items began to appear. These items were believed to bring good luck to the artists and production members who left them. The tradition was so popular that the shrine grew large enough to inhabit two homes: one in the Klein Theatre and one in Harman Hall. Over the years, the collection has grown to include many strange and interesting objects: everything from Barbie dolls to snow globes to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packaging—even toilet paper! If you can put Elvis’ name or face on it, chances are that it has been included in the shrine.
In addition to drawing the attention of actors and crew, the Elvis Shrine has had Presidential recognition. Prior to one of First Lady Hillary Clinton’s visits to the theatre, her press secretary contacted STC and said that unfortunately, they would not be able to see the Elvis Shrine. The letter with this information was placed within the shrine, adding just another piece to its lore. However, after the performance, Hillary insisted upon viewing the shrine for herself and saw that the letter about her visit had been placed among the other Elvis paraphernalia.
Although it might not be initially apparent, a connection can be found between the King and the Bard. Much like the theatre’s namesake, Elvis was a country boy who grew to great fame and fortune through his specific brand of art. To this day, the Elvis Shrine remains an important, albeit somewhat silly, part of STC’s history.