Local Love / Longs. / sacramento / Venues / Word. / Words.

Leaving the Ghost Light On: An Employee’s Goodbye to the Crest Theater

There are moments that, in retrospect, mark the beginning, and without a doubt, mark the end of an era in one’s life: the first day of high school, graduating college, a best friend’s wedding, a parent’s funeral. Seated in the last row of an over-sold-out Crest Theater for the final Trash Film Orgy screening of Beetlejuice, I remember one such moment: my first Trash Film Orgy, thirteen years prior. Then, too, I sat in the last row, 12 seats away from my current location. As I sat there, remembering, reality set in of having to say goodbye to the people that make up CSLM Inc.; the same management company running the theater for the last 28 years. Sid Garcia-Heberger, Bill Heberger, Gary Schroeder, and Andy Field were more than just proprietors or promoters, but the heart and soul of the Crest Theater.

On August 19th, 2001, a friend of mine had an extra ticket to see the inaugural Trash Film Orgy’s presentation of Evil Dead 2 on the big screen at the Crest Theater. The bonus to that evening was a special live appearance of the film’s star, Bruce Campbell. The theater was packed wall-to-wall, bodies filling the stairs. Even the intense humidity did not distract from the crowd’s focus on the film’s hero, Ash. There was a hilarious Q&A session prior to the film that included a fanatical imposter Ash, played by local musician Mickie Rat, rushing the stage and being stabbed to ‘death’ by Campbell. I feel fortunate to have that as one of my earliest memories of the Crest Theater, and I have continued my cult-like devotion to the yearly late-night celebration of horror and exploitation to this day.

The TFO, as it is commonly referred to, has maintained the feel of a childlike summer vacation in an adult world gone mad. Imagine watching a film in an environment reminiscent of the theater scene in Gremlins, paired with Rocky Horror Picture Show call and response audience participation. With its unique and endearing nature, it was truly an unforgettable experience. The TFO is also known to have invented the worldwide phenomenon that is the Zombie Walk in 2001. ‘Though technically being billed as “The Zombie Parade,” it was an idea conjured up by Bryna Lovig, as a way to promote the midnight film festival. The Zombie Walk has since become an annual opening night event bringing out hundreds of participants.’[1]

A vital part of Trash Film Orgy is the character known as Evil Sid, the meanest theater manager in the world and direct adversary to the TFO. She would blast out from behind the side curtains and march heavily up to the stage, stomp furiously to the edge, and with a look of disgust, roast the audience into a fervor. Middle fingers raised high, she wanted us out and we wanted her to “get off the stage and start the fuckin’ movie!” It was a ying-yang, love-hate relationship, similar to the likes of Batman and The Joker or Tom and Jerry.  It would be that same ‘evil’ manager that I’d have an interview with for a job eight years later, thanks to another local musician Lory Gilpatric. Most job interviews are nerve racking enough without having been cussed out and condemned to death by your potential new employer prior to the interview. Within seconds of meeting Sid, the veil of ‘Evil Sid’ was lifted. Though it was of some small relief, only the exposing of Santa’s true identity held such devastation.

There have been hundreds of Crest employees over the generations. Even Sid had her humble beginnings as a former candy counter manager, hired on by former manager, Matías Bombal. Sid and husband, Bill Heberger, have played the role of Mom and Dad to countless local artists, poets, musicians, comedians, students, or just wandering kids, all that would pop in every so often for a shift or staff party. Since news broke on August 25th, 2014 that CSLM Inc would be leaving the Crest, there has been some confusion surrounding the future of the theater. Explaining that to my knowledge, films and concerts would continue and that there has been no talk of tearing the building down became a difficult subject to broach. More often than not this news will be met with a huge sigh of relief, but not even a second thought as to the changing of the guard and what it meant to the lives, families, and careers of those leaving. Then again, why should it? New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has continued without Dick Clark, I’ve lived through three different Tonight Show hosts.

In the last few months, I’ve seen my Crest family act exactly as a family would in this situation, some days being harder than others. Seeing long time secretary, Laura Coulter with her face in hands each time I entered the office was emotionally devastating. We were more than employees. We were a family, and our family was being ripped apart. We all grieve and mourn in our own way. None of us wanted to believe the changes could be true. The weeks leading up to Halloween were a ping-pong game of depression and acceptance.

On October 17th, 2014, twenty-eight years after CLSM promoted their first showing of Singing in the Rain, Sid and company closed with the same film. There wasn’t one open seat in the house, nor a dry eye behind the candy counter. I remember walking into this magical place of film, music, and art, and it felt like a funeral. Although the iconic message on the marquee welcoming every patron into the Crest, “When you pass through this portal, you leave all cares behind”, was of some solace. There was an unexpected reunion as generations of old employees came out to see their former employer. Matías Bombal took center stage and gave CSLM their curtain call introduction to an audience that stood in ovation and appreciation. Sid spoke with sincerity, sadness, strength and acceptance. Just as it seemed she had concluded her farewell speech, she asked if there happened to be anyone in attendance that might have had an authorized marriage license, and one arm was proudly raised. Tony Sheppard and Paul Le, two longtime partners and friends of the Crest family, took the stage. An impromptu wedding ceremony was held, with Sid herself officiating.  What began as solemn moment of sadness had suddenly transformed into a celebration with over a thousand witnesses. It was a beautiful bookend to the historic tenure of the theater.

Back to October 24th, 2014 and the last TFO. Thirteen years after their beginning, Trash Film Orgy would take their final bow on the Crest Theater stage. There were hundreds commandeering the sidewalk, with more already inside. In recent years, this kind of turn out would only been seen on the opening night Zombie Walk, but we all knew this was to be our final Orgy. The front entrance was a continuous slow-moving blob of humanity entering through the center doors, which eventually merged into meandering line of people that stretched into the theater before rounding back into the lobby on far theater entrance.  The bar was at capacity and overflowing with laughter, and a game of “Twister.” Along with the line of hungry patrons, the lobby was filled with all sorts of side attractions. Sid shot me her trademark smile, gave me a giant hug, then demanded I get behind the candy counter and help out; even though I wasn’t scheduled. As she walked away into the theater, I chuckled to myself and proceeded to my ordered position for what seemed like an eternity.

The moment I heard, “Welcome, Trash fans!” in the voice of Tiki, the giant Tiki head and longtime host of TFO, I bolted from behind the counter and into the theater. I was just in time to see the painfully ironic coming attractions and therein my personal favorite: the PSA by TFO alumni El Tigre Diablo to either be funny and respectful with participation, or, “Play it cool”; meaning sit down and shut up. A big pink bunny (played by Josh Dietz) introduced co-founder Darin Wood, who proceeded to give all his followers a final thank you, which was followed by a full standing farewell applause. Just as it seemed the festivities were beginning, an evil lawyer interrupted for a celebration of his intentions to “homogenize downtown Sacramento.” As his over-the-top verbal spoils reached climax, a familiar voice harked from behind the side stage curtain, and a silhouette floated to center stage. Draped in a black cloak and signature ‘Phantom of The Crest’ mask, the figure did everything in her power to combat the evil lawyer, including a song and dance number. He revealed a (water) pistol, and things quickly escalated into a scuffle between he and the bunny, which resulted in the super soaker flying free from grasp and straight towards the phantom. She picked up the weapon and took slow, deliberate steps towards the now down and flailing lawyer before saying, “downsize this!” and took revenge, which we would learn she so richly deserved. The secret identity of the phantom was revealed to be Evil Sid. After a moment of shock, there was a truce between the TFO and Evil Sid as she and Josh the Bunny literally kissed and made up as the curtain rose for its final screening of Beetlejuice.

Once the film began, I returned to the candy counter to help the remaining line. Eventually I made it into the theater for the last fifteen minutes of the film, and my friends had saved one open seat in the very last row. I couldn’t have been happier. Though I have to admit I found myself watching the crowd more than I did what remained of the film. Soon after, the house lights came up and Tiki’s voice graced our ears once more, “Goodnight, Trash fans.” His eyes went out and the crowd slowly dispersed from the theater. I just sat there and watched them all leave. Two girls seated in front of me said: “Shit. That was it. Our last Trash Film Orgy. It’s over. This is so sad.”

As I walked out the side entrance and onto K Street I, in typical movie fashion, paused to take one final look at the place where I had spent so many days. A building that began as nothing more than a venue in a then, somewhat dangerous area had become a place I could call home. A place I could stop in anytime, even after hours if I could see a light on in the back office. Moments of beginnings and endings happened there. I witnessed love blossom and manifest, some even that brought new life into the world. I was an usher at the front door when the evening manager Victor Celis proposed to his then girlfriend Rachel Miller, with his question displayed on the marquee. Moments when I was lost in life and days when I couldn’t keep my personal life out of work were always handled with the love and support you would expect to find at home by co-workers I consider family. It was an incredible opportunity that I am thankful for having been given; to play a small role in such a historic part of this cities legacy.

Whatever the future holds, on behalf of everyone at the Crest Theater for the last 28 years, we hope you enjoyed your time with us because we enjoyed every second with you. It was our esteemed pleasure to have done our best to ensure that when you entered and passed through that portal, you left the world’s cares behind. But most of all, we hope to have made you laugh.
Love
Jordan Wolfe


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_walk  (Section: History, 2nd paragraph)

Video Andrew Hooper.

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