Welcome to The Cage Page!
This website is dedicated to all who passed through the doors of The Bird Cage Theatre in Orange County, CA. Feel free to visit and share your stories with us.
Our Founding Fathers
In the beginning , in a venerable amusement park in Orange County, California, there was"The Bird Cage" and it was good!
But it could have been better.
At least that's what park progenitor Walter Knott commented to a woman who worked in his "Old Mac Donald's Farm" petting zoo. The performances at "The Cage" were staged by students from Fullerton College and as much fun as they were having, they were not professionals and their school schedules made show schedules a little erratic.
Now, this woman at the petting zoo (if anyone knows her name please send it to me) happened to work, in some capacity, at the Theatre Mart in LA, where she became acquainted with Woodrow Wilson (No, not the president) and George Stuart MacFarland, hereafter referred to as "Woody" and "Stu".
They were doing the granddaddy of all melodramas -- The Drunkard.
The show in LA was coming to a close
Woody and Stu were pro actors looking for a theatre
Walter Knott was a theatre owner looking for pro actors
An unnamed woman at the petting zoo was the conduit and...
FATE TAKES A HAND!
In 1954, the classic melodrama, The Streets of New York, opened at the Bird Cage Theatre with a large cast and in the pit, not a piano but a band...
A BAND!! (ok, ok, an accordion and a banjo).
The shows were such a success that the theatre could never close down long enough to make the structural modifications that they wanted. So the open air theatre got a tent put over it, that the shows might go on, even in the teeth of inclement weather. As the elements took their toll, the tent had to be replaced. Then, to protect the tent, a tin roof was erected. Which is how it stands today.
The shows were 40 to 45 minutes in length, one script per season, each season finding a new story or a very old one as the versatile young theatre had original melodramas as well as those tested tried and true in her repertoire.
Versatile, did I say? You bet!
Because in addition to the melodramas, there was a series of olio acts lasting about 20 or 30 minutes total. Ventriloquism, magic, music, song, dance, comedy, every aspiring actor who wanted to play a part also had to strum a mandolin or make a handkerchief disappear to get the job. And at the exorbitant compensation of $3 per show, it was a job well worth having.
And so it went, about an hour per show, 3 shows per day weekdays, 5 per day weekends, changing shows every year. A show lasting over an hour at a theme park might seem long today but at the time the pace was a little slower, there was less to do so you had more time to do each thing. If you went on a ride at this amusement park, it was on a train, a burro or a stagecoach.
As metamorphosis and evolution are necessary to survival so there came changes to The Bird Cage Theatre. The "band" gave way to the "organo" a unique blend of piano and organ. So unique, however, that after a time there was no one around who knew how to repair it and, ultimately, the organo gave way to a more conventional keyed instrument (I don't remember what it's called). The 60's, the 70's and the 80's quickened the tempo of life and shortened the shows on the stage of The Bird Cage to about 25 minutes, the olio's became a fond memory but we were now doing 6 shows a day, 4 or 5 different scripts per day, seasonal shows such as the rather burlesque Dr. Cleaver at Halloween, Dickens' A Christmas Carol and O Henry's Gift of the Magi at Christmas, dramatic portrayals of the founding fathers which helped to start an educational department at the park and, at the end, being paid (be still my heart)
$7 per show!!! (call my tax lawyer!).
January 10 1991, the amusement park bought out the little acting company, thus bringing an end to the Bird Cage Players as an independent troupe. January 12 1997, The Bird Cage Theatre was closed, bringing down the curtain on 42 years of melodramas and honest theatre.
The longest continually operating melodrama theatre in the world.
Here's what you'll find on the Cage Page:
It's Your Line...
So what do you want to do now?? Let us know any suggestions you have for get-togethers or activities and see who's interested...
This site was last updated 11/11/07
Mary and Dean Carter