Behind the Scenes of “Gimme ArtsNow:” The Rialto Theatre

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Just before Roger and I put out the first episode of “Gimme ArtsNow,” we sat down to consider what we’d do the second episode on. While we were brainstorming, Roger showed me an interview he had done with a local musician named Eriq Troi.

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Photo Courtesy of Jef Janis Photography

Well, it wasn’t so much of an interview as a dissection of one of Eriq’s song. It’s a walkthrough, a step-by-step introduction into Eric’s world. He builds the song in layers, recreating it for the listener. The song, called “The House of Yarn,” is an orchestral tune set to 808 drum machines. I learned this by listening to the podcast, by the way. I don’t know much about music, so when I first heard the track, the best way I could describe it was as some kind of symphony/hip-hop mash-up. (Eric later describes it loosely as Beethoven set to Chicago-style jack house, a description that tickles me).

After listening to the segment, Roger and I decided to do the next episode on music. More specifically, we wanted to go behind the scenes. We already looked at the work that goes into each individual song, but what about the people and places that make this work possible? What about new artists who don’t have their own studio and recording equipment?

Roger mentioned a place on Kenmore Boulevard called the Rialto Theatre. He said that he’d performed there with Eriq earlier this year. He’d heard the owners also rent out recording studios. We called them up and arranged an interview.

For my first interview (with Akron-based author David Giffels), I sat down in his office and asked him a few questions. I recorded his answers and edited them together between narrated clips of me introducing him and his responses. The whole thing reminded me of my time working for the University of Akron’s student newspaper.

But for the Rialto, Roger and I wanted to do something different. We wanted to make the podcast feel more alive. We wanted to bring listeners along for the ride. So, we fired up the mic before we got in the car and kept it rolling as we drove. This was my first time on Kenmore Boulevard. With the mic hot, Roger and I parked behind one of the businesses and started walking toward the Rialto. We picked up the street sounds—engines roaring over the road, tires crushing gravel, men and women calling to one another down the boulevard—which we used later when we put the segment together.

The Rialto’s new marquee is similar to the original cinema’s in the 1910s.

The shop fronts were plain and bland. (Later, Seth Vaill, one of the Rialto’s owners, explained later that this was for security reasons). But then we rounded a bend and saw the Rialto’s marquee.

It’s a gorgeous tricolor slab, a red-gold-white relic from a time that sometimes seems to exist only in black and white. The marquee looked proud up there above the pavement, even a little defiant. Seth told me that they modeled it after the original theater’s marquee.

The theater is small and intimate. From the stage (where the photo was taken), a performer can reach down and touch the audience.

Seth greeted us outside and gave us a short tour. The Rialto’s interior looks less like a theater than a club. Its walls narrow and cozy, the wood warm and inviting. Artwork from local artists crowds the walls. Stools and tables packs the floor. The stage stands just a step above everything else, inviting the audience to come closer. And the lighting, all shadows and light glancing off varnish, tucks the whole place into its own world where everything seems to lean into a pool of purple light in the middle.

After he showed us around, we asked Seth if we could do the interview inside the recording studio, and after thinking about it, he said sure.

That’s when the whole thing stopped feeling like an interview.

He brought us upstairs. We had to push past a battlefield of painted chairs and purple curtains.

“Part of a recent production of Alive and Wonderland that we did,” Seth explained, pushing chairs into a corner.

We moved on and he brought us to the studio. Seth’s brother and co-owner Nate sat in front of an immense panel bristling with knobs and buttons and switches. A few monitors hung on the wall above him and a keyboard sat against the closest wall—not to mention the phalanx of microphones mounted on the walls and floor.

We stepped inside and another man smiled at us from a couch. He cradled a guitar in his hands and picked away while Nate explained something to him. It didn’t take long for us to realize we’d stepped right into a recording session. Seth left to turn off the AC and we introduced ourselves to Nate and the musician, a local teacher named Kyle who uses his music in the classroom.

We chatted for a bit. We recorded a little sample of Kyle’s picking, which we ended up using as transition music in the actual episode. Then one of the Rialto’s audio engineers, Tim “Loki,” came into the studio. We learned that he was going to help Kyle add some “kick” to his tracks.

By this point, the ‘structure’ of the interview was starting to blur. It was closer, more intimate. It felt like Seth and Nate had let us into their home. It felt like I was seeing the soul of the Rialto: its owners and engineers and musicians crafting music that they might later play on its stage. It was new and incredible.

The interview itself came organically. I had no idea what they were going to do with Kyle’s music, what equipment they were using, how they’d mix and master it, what final touches they might add. I asked them, and they were happy to tell me.

And that’s how it went.

They went on to talk about their reasons for adding recording studios in the first place. They told me about the history of the Rialto, a building that used to be a cinema in the 1910s. When the brothers bought it, they had no idea just how much history was in the old theater. But they learned one day when a family friend’s grandma happened to stop by during their band’s rehearsal. She told them about how she used to spend two cents on movie tickets at the neighborhood cinema, the Rialto Theatre.

It was a great story—just one of the great stories that I heard that day. I’d hate to spoil the others for you, so check out the full podcast up above. And make sure you take a look at the Rialto’s website here.