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Panhandle Spirit: The Gem Theater

The Gem Theater in Claude has been the home of live performances and movies since 1915(ABC7 Amarillo)

When you hear the phrase community theater, you often think of the production itself—the volunteer actors and crew all pitching in to put on the show. But in Claude, it’s that, and more, because the theater itself has been a part of that community for more than 100 years.

The Gem Theater was built in 1915, first named The Claudia and a couple other titles before settling on The Gem. While the outside has undergone a terrific facelift, on the inside, the character of the old showplace remains intact.

“When the theater was built in 1915, it was just for live performances for the theater, for traveling shows, for puppeteers, everything. Then eventually, it transitioned into a movie theater for a short time, where they showed films, and stuff, and now it’s really back to just being for concerts and plays,” said Jimmy Mustion, The Gem’s artistic director.

The theater also has a connection to Hollywood royalty. The 1963 film ‘Hud’ starring Paul Newman, which won three Oscars, was filmed in Claude, and included scenes at the theater.

“There’s been plenty of days when I’ve been up here at the theater and people will just stop by out of nowhere, just because the want to see the theater that ‘Hud’ was filmed in,” Mustion said.

It’s a terrific mix of old and new. The stairway leading to the balcony is creaky, and you’ve gotta duck your head making your way to your seat up there. The aisles are narrow on the floor, and the seats have seen their share of wear--but the chandeliers provide a touch of elegance. There’s now LED lighting for the stage. It’s a cozy setting that provides a wonderful link to the past for the audience.

“Knowing that people have sat here, they’ve seen movies, they’ve seen productions, participated in a melodrama, you can just kinda feel the history as you sit there, and see a production,” said Janet Westbrook, who is one of the regular volunteer performers, as well as the backstage manager.

Mustion says he’s encouraged by the recent upswing in support from the community, and says it’s another example of residents showing great pride in their town.

“I’ve always thought it was amazing to have a theater like this in a town the size of Claude, with 1100 people, just to have an awesome theater like this, is just amazing.”

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, there’s a country concert on Friday night, and then Saturday night, it’s their version of the Tonys—The Gem Awards---recognizing the top local performers of the past season.

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