THROUGH THE LENS: Photo Collection Helps Arizona’s Rialto Theatre Weather Hard Times
Rialto Theatre Marquee - 2021 - Photo by C. Elliott
Readers of this column should be extremely familiar with C. Elliott and her photography. In addition to being a frequent contributor and and former online photo editor for No Depression, Elliott’s been the house photographer for the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, since 2008. As with every other performance venue in the country, the theater has been hard hit by the pandemic.
Ranked among the top 40 venues in the country by Pollstar magazine, the historic Rialto Theatre was aiming to celebrate its 100th birthday on Aug. 29, 2020. However, on March 12 of that year, its doors were closed and events canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the theater, which had featured 350 shows per year and drew an annual audience of more than 185,000, has lost over $5 million in revenue and was forced to lay off over 100 staff members.
A year of lost shows and memories has passed, but on April 2, 2021, the theater opened its doors for the ongoing Gallery Project that showcases theater posters and photography by Elliott and its previous house photographer, Mark Martinez. Included in the gallery below are some of Elliott’s photos featured in the exhibit, as well as her photos of the exhibit itself.
The theater did not have a full-time house photographer until Martinez volunteered his services in 2006. When Martinez became house manager two years later, Elliott, who was well-known to both the theater and the community, stepped in. Between them, Elliott and Martinez shot thousands of shows at the Rialto, everyone from Ralph Stanley to Lucinda Williams to Sonic Youth to David Byrne’s American Utopia. Everyone, it seems, has made a point to perform in the Rialto.
During the exhibit’s months-long run, Rialto merchandise, event posters, and photos will be for sale. Donations will be accepted to help raise funds for the official reopening of the theater. The Gallery Project also is aimed at reconnecting the community by bringing loyal patrons back home to the Rialto through shared memories of live music with free special showings of curated images from past live events.
The Rialto hopes to begin hosting live shows again in August, with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, among others, scheduled to perform.
But before that happens, the Rialto will have a new executive director effective June 1. With 25 years of experience in radio, television, artist management, and as a musician herself, Cathy Rivers appears even to the outside eye to be well qualified to, as Rialto Theatre Foundation Board Chair Kip Volpe said, “[G]uide the Rialto Theatre as it emerges from the current health and financial crisis on its way back to prosperity.” For more information see the theater’s website. You can view the photos and posters in the gallery, along with purchasing information, here.
A March 30 article in The (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star took an in-depth look at the theater, the project, and the histories of both Elliott and Martinez. As an extra bonus, and extra treat for photographers and music photography fans everywhere, Elliott was recently interviewed by the Arizona Arts Live YouTube channel. You can hear her talk about her photography, her influences, and more here. Elliott was also interviewed on Arizona Public Media on April 15. Her segment begins at the 8:39 mark here.
Now, the photos. Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slide show.