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June 9, 2000
Volume 37, No. 17


Signature collection
Budget matters: People come first
Energy curtailment plans refined for summer 2000
Staff Celebration Day 2000 offers fun, food, and facts about staff activities and achievements
Parking and Transporation Committee challenged by proposed changes

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Signature collection

Hancher Auditorium gathers artists' autographs

The Hancher autograph book on its stand in a backstage dressing room. Photo by Rex Bavousett.


"A joy to come back once again—Isaac Stern."

"Sincere thanks for a most comfortable atmosphere and beautiful hall. Sincerely, Oscar Peterson."

"With all my thanks—Gregory Peck."

These three autographs alone would be the centerpiece of a collection. At Hancher Auditorium, though, they’re only three of the hundreds of autographs signed by performers who’ve graced the stage.

Since opening its doors in 1972, Hancher has attempted to get the autograph of every performer on every program. While other venues collect autographs from the stars, Hancher is unique in that it also gets the autographs of the stage hands, musicians, understudies, managers, and truck drivers who make up the touring companies. The Hancher autograph book, now in four volumes, is a remarkable record of the luminaries of classical music, dance, jazz, theater, film, mime, science, and politics who have played, acted, danced, lectured, and, well, mimed on the Hancher stage.

Brian Anstedt is Hancher’s technical director, and he was stage manager from 1984 to 1991. Of all the Hancher staff, Anstedt probably has the most fingerprints on the autograph book. As stage manager, he was responsible for getting the autographs, and he remembers many performers vividly. One in particular is George Shearing, the great jazz pianist who visited Hancher as Mel Tormé’s accompanist.

  Technical director Brian Anstedt hefts an armload of history in the form of autograph books. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

"George is blind, but he actually signed the book," Anstedt says. "His wife travels with him. He put his hand on top of her hand as she was signing his name. It was really touching."

Leafing through the book is like taking a course on the late 20th century. The names from high culture, popular culture, and everything in between leap out. Gene Kelly. Pianists Ferrante and Teicher. Magician David Copperfield. Debbie Reynolds. Carl Sagan. Jimmy Carter. Laurie Anderson. Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain. Rudolph Nureyev. Victor Borge. Leontyne Price. Even Cindy Lou and Buster, the two dogs who shared the role of Sandy in Annie, contributed an inky paw print.

"My favorite performers are the old-time jazzers," Anstedt says. "They really appreciate everything you do for them, because they’ve had the hard times."

Anstedt recalls some African-American performers who could remember being barred from hotels and concert halls because of their race. For them, Hancher was a dream come true.

And some of those old jazzers had a few surprises, like Joe Williams, the noted jazz singer who had been a regular vocalist in Count Basie’s orchestra.

"Williams came to do a sound check. He already had his tux on. And he said, in a big booming voice, ‘What should I sing?’ We told him, ‘Whatever you want.’ And he started singing opera! He just started on an aria."

Another surprise came from the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Peterson’s concert was the first that Anstedt stage managed. One of Anstedt’s new responsibilities was to find out how long Peterson planned to play, so the house staff could prepare the lobby and refreshments for intermission.


"He said, ‘Well, I think I’ll do an hour, take intermission, then do another hour.’ I passed that along to the house managers. Then Peterson did a 90-minute show with no intermission! Here’s my first show, and they were blaming me for not getting the right information."

Not all the autographs are in the book itself. The very greatest pianists also are invited to affix their John Hancocks to the sounding board of one of Hancher’s two nine-foot Steinway grands. Those autographs include Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn.

The current volume of the book is kept under lock and key and taken out for performances. The earlier volumes are kept in a fireproof safe. Recently, the first volume was on display in the Main Library as part of the Celebrating Dance! Documenting Dance! exhibit. Visitors could read the 1974 autograph of Robert Joffrey, founder of the Joffrey Ballet, a company that would later receive several commissions from Hancher and whose second company would spend several summers in residence at Iowa:

"Thank you to the people of Iowa City for a wonderful theater for dance."

Among other things.

Autographs from top to bottom: Jimmy Carter; pianist George Shearing; Japanese percussion group Kodo; Gene Kelly. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Article by Sam Samuels


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