It is the same issue most of us have with our good china: Using it and preserving it seem at odds. On the edge of its ninety-third birthday, the glamorous Mount Baker Theatre (MBT) continues to serve up major stars and local students alike in its irreplaceable setting, thereby using its china while simultaneously preserving it.
You might think this would trouble the man charged with maintaining the china cabinet, so to speak, but having 110,000 patrons and thousands of performers and stagehands use the venue each year thrills Glenn Curtright, the head custodian at MBT.
MBT has always made Curtright happy. As a child, he would mow lawns and pull weeds until he had enough money to buy a ticket and a big tub of popcorn. “I have a lot of fond memories of this building as a pretty young kid. I would tell my mom, ‘I think it would be fun to work there,’” Curtright says. He cuts a wry smile when he adds to be careful what you wish for, but clearly he is pleased.
“Now, it’s about watching the people come through the doors, normal everyday people, and then when they leave, they have these big smiles on their faces, and they are talking about what a wonderful time they had. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Annually, there are more events at MBT than there are days in the year, so the need for efficient upkeep is constant. Curtright’s job might entail cleaning up glitter, setting and resetting chairs and tables, or fixing broken toilets.
“Alton Brown had a rocket full of popcorn twenty feet high on the stage. He hit it with CO2 and blew popcorn everywhere,” Curtright says. That challenge started his practice of using a leaf blower to clean under the seats, perhaps something he imagined when he used to sneak into the balcony and throw popcorn over the edge as a child.
Curtright is also responsible for maintaining an aging asset of the community. “Glenn is a custodian in the truest sense of the word,” says MBT Facilities and Operations Director Jim Zoehrer. “He is charged with custody of the building.”
Mount Baker Theatre’s facility spans almost half a city block and is a patchwork of different phases of construction. “Learning the building means a lot,” says Curtright. “I love this building. I have a history with it, and I want to do the best of my ability to take care of it.”
Curtright joined MBT in 2012 and has been maintaining the facility between major improvement projects, the last ending in 2008 and the next scheduled to begin this summer. “I’m looking forward to the roof being replaced and the outside of the building being sealed and fixed. The gutters are very important, too, because we’ve had water intrusion for some time.” As it is, rain season means he is regularly on the roof patching leaks.
“And the seats,” adds Curtright. Current upkeep of the almost 1,500 cast iron seats takes the help of a crew of squeak-seeking volunteers, plus a local welder who creates parts for which Glenn matches the paint. “Because we’re on the National Historic Registry, we need to keep the building as historically accurate as humanly possible.”
Any day might find Curtright and his equally dedicated assistant Matthew Sweeney updating a historic light fixture with an LED socket, battling a minutes-to-curtain flood at the foot of the stage, or discovering a telegram from 1927 during a painting project. “You just never know, every day is something different,” Curtright says. “That’s what makes this fun.”
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