Fall, 2013, has rolled into Julian, and a cascade of events has begun that will not let the carpets roll up until the last week of December. October is arguably Julian’s busiest month, but of course why not, the fall air and fresh colors have a way of redirecting our senses to apple pie. Just steer the car toward a day on Main Street, USA, but during this time of year try to arrive in town before noon. Julian is nestled in a little mountain meadow of limited space and parking is a problem on some days. Still, it retains the invitation to visitors a town only three and half blocks long and about half that wide can do.
The most “Julian” of events is quite possibly the Julian Melodrama and Olio, and it’s some of the best entertainment, old-time or otherwise, to be found anywhere. Last year’s production was the first in thirty-five years without the show’s phenomenal producer and director Bobbie Green, who had kept the show authentic to the art form and locally acted for as many years.
Since 2012, the experienced and talented Garnette Welch has taken the helm, not only directing and producing but also wearing the essential hat of piano player. The plays are witty, funny and traditionally written by local Julianites with a flair for such things and the plots are usually historically based (we won’t say if they’re historically accurate!) What is most charming are the studious players who know their lines perfectly…most of the time—but of course, that’s what actually makes it perfect.
Click on above photos for enlargement and descriptions
The Julian Melodrama and Olio plays at Julian’s Town Hall at Washington and Main Street, Julian every weekend throughout October. This year, there will be two afternoon matinees each Saturday, but only two Sundays of the month will offer afternoon showings. Two great websites list the official schedules for matinee and evening performances: julianmelodrama.com may have up-to-date info about dates and ticket prices. (Update: as of September, 2020, julianmelodrama.com is a parked domain, possibly because of performance cancellation because of COVID-19. We can always try again in 2021.)
When I first heard about Julian’s annual Melodrama and Olio, I spelled out the word “oleo” in my head and thought this referred to the “oily” character of the villain. I was soon set straight that the melodrama had nothing to do with margarine. An “olio” is a sideshow of sorts that goes along with the main act. Julian’s Olio adds a string of little vignettes between melodrama scenes, ranging from stand-up cowboy jokes to mountain dulcimer-playing on homemade instruments. Mrs. Spooner is a regular act, with her ability to tangle almost every other word in the telling of a fairy tale.
It’s a tradition in the olio for young ladies aged 7–10 or thereabouts to perform the annual can-can on the Town Hall stage around mid-play, so the actors can change the set behind the curtain to get ready for the last scene. The girls are well prepared and all attention is on center stage. Believe me–if there’s no gold to be had in Julian these days, there is certainly a gem or two like this be found. A delightful offering from the 2012 Junior Can-Can:
Then, there are the floozies—those saloon girls who ride buckboard on the show and can appear anytime before, between and after acts to lead us in song or perform skits and will, occassionally, remind us of the dire need for sobriety (they then proceed to guzzle a mysterious beverage they call Lydia Pinkham’s Medicinal!)
Julian doesn’t have any saloons anymore, but at the height of her gold mining days the town had sprouted some 27 bars. That was back when Julian was nearly elected the county seat, losing by only one vote to San Diego. The story goes that the miners had been provided a bit too much of the medicinal the night before (by suspected nefarious evil-doers from the city), and the men forgot to vote the following day!
There is only one Rule to remember when seeing the Julian Melodrama and Olio: When you see the villain, don’t forget to BOO and HISS! And when you see the hero or the heroine, it’s time to APPLAUD and CHEER!
Photo credits (top-down): Barbara Swanson, Richard Stephens, Lee McComb, Richard Stephens, Barbara Swanson.