The Talent Show

By: Pauline Nevins
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 This event occurred a few years ago before Goyo and Anastazia Aranaga became The Colfax Theater owners.

“Gramma, I’m too tired to go,” was my adult grandson’s answer to my invitation to go with me to the talent show at the Colfax Theater that evening.  He claimed his overweight cat, Hope, had kept him awake the night before. I thought all-night video game-playing factored in there somewhere. I decided to go alone.

 The talent show was held in the 1939 art deco movie house on Main Street.  After sitting vacant for eight years, the theatre was purchased by a well-known cinematographer. All the locals were excited. The regulars at the Luna Café talked about nothing else. Everyone had been dismayed when the theater had closed. Colfax didn’t need one more vacant building. When I passed the empty cinema on my way to meetings at the Colfax Library, I'd silently pledge to support events if it ever opened again.

Five months before the theater was scheduled to reopen, the new owner died, suddenly. Everyone was shocked and saddened. I'd walk by the boarded-up building, which looked even sadder than before.

Less than a year later, an article in the Colfax Record announced a Colfax resident, with ties to the San Francisco music scene, had purchased the theater. Once again, the community became energized.

Knowing this history, I was happy to see the crowd gathered outside the theater that evening for the talent show. Children were jumping up and down as if they’d been bitten, while their parents ignored them, engaged in animated conversations with other big people.

Inside, a young man with tattooed forearms and dark hair standing straight up, exchanged my $5 for a paper bracelet bestowing in-and-out privileges. I nudged my way through the throng in the lobby clamoring for popcorn and other refreshments to sustain them throughout the 90-minute show.

The theater was packed and loud. Adult voices mingled with children's squeals as the kids ran in and out of the aisles. I held onto the wooden rail and cautiously climbed the carpeted steps, surveying each row. A couple of rows from the back were two empty seats. I’d barely sat in the aisle seat when a middle-aged woman in a sleeveless dress and enviable toned upper arms scooted by me and sat down. She introduced herself and asked to share my program. We both exclaimed surprise that there were 29 acts. As we chatted, I told myself to remember that going places alone can be fun. I may not have met this woman had my grandson come with me.

The crowd hushed. Rita Dolphin, the theater’s community relations person at the time, appeared on stage sparkling like Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Rita opened the show with a rousing “There’s No Business like Show Business.” The girl could sing. The audience responded with enthusiasm, clapping and whistling their approval.

Next up was Mary Price singing, “Getting to Know You,” while at the same time scooping up a steady stream of little children who ran onto the lower stage chased by frantic parents.

The rest of the singers were not as experienced as Rita and Mary but they sang with gusto. One soloist, a slender elderly woman, walked slowly onto the stage clutching a miniature schnauzer. Standing in front of the microphone with the dog encircled within her right arm, and a piece of paper in her left hand, she began to sing, "How much is that doggie in the window."  Squinting at the paper, she sang the first line and then stopped singing.  They keyboardist stopped playing. The singer repeated the first line and then stopped again. The keyboardist started playing again, doing his best to prompt the singer who stumbled through the song, repeating some lines and missing others. The performance was one of the most endearing renditions of the song I’ve heard. The audience agreed, clapping loud and long.

A young ballerina gave a polished performance entirely en pointe. A floor gymnastic exhibition by another young woman was breathtaking, both in quality and daring — her somersaults ended within inches of the stage speakers.  

The “Hot Tamales,” four women of indeterminate age and hair color, performed a lively professional choreograph of familiar songs that brought the house down.

On the drive home, I thought about the evening’s performances. I enjoyed the talent show but realized it was the audience that impressed me the most. They spontaneously and enthusiastically clapped, cheered and hooted for every single performer. I’d never witnessed a more generous outpouring of support.

Rita had named the event, “Colfax Got Talent.”  I’ll remember the show as "Colfax Got Heart.”


Resident Pauline Nevins wrote the memoir, ‘”Fudge’ The Downs and Ups of a Biracial, Half-Irish British War Baby.” A member of Gold Country Writers, Nevins can be emailed at