Hancher Auditorium gathers artists' autographs
"A joy to come back once againIsaac Stern."
"Sincere thanks for a most comfortable atmosphere and beautiful hall. Sincerely, Oscar Peterson."
"With all my thanksGregory Peck."
These three autographs alone would be the centerpiece of a collection. At Hancher Auditorium, though, theyre only three of the hundreds of autographs signed by performers whove graced the stage.
Since opening its doors in 1972, Hancher has attempted to get the autograph of every performer on every program. While other venues collect autographs from the stars, Hancher is unique in that it also gets the autographs of the stage hands, musicians, understudies, managers, and truck drivers who make up the touring companies. The Hancher autograph book, now in four volumes, is a remarkable record of the luminaries of classical music, dance, jazz, theater, film, mime, science, and politics who have played, acted, danced, lectured, and, well, mimed on the Hancher stage.
Brian Anstedt is Hanchers technical director, and he was stage manager from 1984 to 1991. Of all the Hancher staff, Anstedt probably has the most fingerprints on the autograph book. As stage manager, he was responsible for getting the autographs, and he remembers many performers vividly. One in particular is George Shearing, the great jazz pianist who visited Hancher as Mel Tormés accompanist.
"George is blind, but he actually signed the book," Anstedt says. "His wife travels with him. He put his hand on top of her hand as she was signing his name. It was really touching."
Leafing through the book is like taking a course on the late 20th century. The names from high culture, popular culture, and everything in between leap out. Gene Kelly. Pianists Ferrante and Teicher. Magician David Copperfield. Debbie Reynolds. Carl Sagan. Jimmy Carter. Laurie Anderson. Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain. Rudolph Nureyev. Victor Borge. Leontyne Price. Even Cindy Lou and Buster, the two dogs who shared the role of Sandy in Annie, contributed an inky paw print.
"My favorite performers are the old-time jazzers," Anstedt says. "They really appreciate everything you do for them, because theyve had the hard times."
Anstedt recalls some African-American performers who could remember being barred from hotels and concert halls because of their race. For them, Hancher was a dream come true.
And some of those old jazzers had a few surprises, like Joe Williams, the noted jazz singer who had been a regular vocalist in Count Basies orchestra.
"Williams came to do a sound check. He already had his tux on. And he said, in a big booming voice, What should I sing? We told him, Whatever you want. And he started singing opera! He just started on an aria."
Another surprise came from the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Petersons concert was the first that Anstedt stage managed. One of Anstedts new responsibilities was to find out how long Peterson planned to play, so the house staff could prepare the lobby and refreshments for intermission.
"He said, Well, I think Ill do an hour, take intermission, then do another hour. I passed that along to the house managers. Then Peterson did a 90-minute show with no intermission! Heres my first show, and they were blaming me for not getting the right information."
Not all the autographs are in the book itself. The very greatest pianists also are invited to affix their John Hancocks to the sounding board of one of Hanchers two nine-foot Steinway grands. Those autographs include Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn.
The current volume of the book is kept under lock and key and taken out for performances. The earlier volumes are kept in a fireproof safe. Recently, the first volume was on display in the Main Library as part of the Celebrating Dance! Documenting Dance! exhibit. Visitors could read the 1974 autograph of Robert Joffrey, founder of the Joffrey Ballet, a company that would later receive several commissions from Hancher and whose second company would spend several summers in residence at Iowa:
"Thank you to the people of Iowa City for a wonderful theater for dance."
Among other things.