Each week leading up to our 50th Anniversary, we’re bringing you stories from the community about the history of Hemisfair. This week, we travel to United States Pavilion at Hemisfair and take in a show.
For the US exhibit, a round theatre structure was erected, for which guests could purchase tickets at an adjacent building. After standing in line outside, they were welcomed into a round lobby, where they poured into three individual theaters.
Soon, small images of faces washed in sepia tones faded into one another as a narrator spoke about different peoples coming to early America. It told the story of diverse nations of different backgrounds with a shared convergence in the new world. The script was written by lauded poet W.H. Auden, and featured a stirring score. The screen eventually showed a simple biplane taking off.
As the sound of the vintage aircraft reached crescendo, it transitioned into that of a roaring jet engine. The small screen expanded in size as curtains on the sides of the theaters slowly rose up. Unbeknownst to the audience, each theatre was seeing and hearing the same show and as the curtains rose, the screens were joined together into a comprehensive viewing experience. The narration, too, shifted, speaking not about the division amongst the ranks of humanity, but about the unity all humans share.
Those that saw the show were awe-struck, and often moved to tears. The message of confluence, matched with the physical experience of being joined with others in a viewing experience was striking. As Sherry Wagner recalled, “It really was this whole physical idea: there’s a group of people, there’s a group of people and all the sudden we’re swept up in this idea of one nation … you experienced the little efforts that grew into a big national concept.”
The film presented a series of vignettes that asked theater goers to truly question the unity of America, and challenged them to rise to its values. The vignette’s names tell the story of a turbulent time when pollution, poverty and race relations were coming to the forefront of the national dialogue: “America: the greatest of meeting places”; “Shalt thou love thy neighbor as thyself?”; “There are other areas we would rather not think about”; “America: land of the giant-king-sized-jumbo-super show”; and perhaps most provocative, “America: Land of great plenty, with promises to keep.”
We hope you’ll join us on Friday, Saturday and Sunday April 6-8 as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary with ¡Viva Hemisfair! If you’ve got a memory of the US pavilion, or any other Hemisfair memories from the last 50 years, we’d love to hear about at hemisfair.org/memories.