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On backstage wall, Walker performers leave a mark — in silver Sharpie

“Many performers would sign over the course of the time they were there. Some would not want to jinx their performance and would only sign when they were on the way out,” former Crew Chief Rob Mills recalls. “Over time, performers became more bold or, in the spirit of one-upmanship, got more elaborate in their signing. I’ve seen performers spend the week figuring out just how they are going to sign.”

From Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s graffiti-covered stairway to the green room at First Avenue, rock venues have long seen their walls scrawled with the doodles and autographs of the artists who grace their stages. Ditto the Walker: In a part of the building rarely seen by visitors — just outside the McGuire Theater’s green room — a black-paneled hallway is fast filling with traces left by performers who’ve made the Walker home while on tour. But while some big names make the wall — Brian Eno, for one — what’s unique about the Walker’s signatures, says Events and Media Production manager Pearl Rea, is that they’re dominated by names of lesser-known, experimental artists. “The kind of work we’re doing isn’t in that rock star kind of circuit,” she said. “It’s atypical for a house the size of ours doing contemporary art to have such a wall.”

Begun four years ago with signatures by the UK multimedia theater artists Gob Squad, the wall has quickly filled with names, and later drawings, by visiting musicians (Deerhoof, Japanther, Juana Molina, Kronos Quartet, Tunng) dancers (Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker, Faustin Linyekula, Lucinda Childs), visual artists (Dan Graham) and theater artists (Improbable Theater, Radiohole, Cynthia Hopkins). The idea was hatched when former Crew Chief Rob Mills sought a way to protect walls that were repeatedly dinged by the constant flow of gear and people. He and crew member Brent Alwin came up with a system of black masonite panels, inspired by Alwin’s past life working on rock tours, that could host signatures, in silver Sharpie ink, in chronological order.

“Many performers would sign over the course of the time they were there. Some would not want to jinx their performance and would only sign when they were on the way out,” Mills recalls. “Over time, performers became more bold or, in the spirit of one-upmanship, got more elaborate in their signing. I’ve seen performers spend the week figuring out just how they are going to sign.”

The most unusual signature? “We have had puppets from shows sign the wall,” he said.

Some — like Gob Squad and Bill Frisell — have returned for additional performances and have multiple signatures on the wall. Mills says he’d occasionally see performers or technicians pondering the wall, looking for names of friends. But for the Performing Arts department, it’s also a log of performances past.

“Beyond being an immediate and lovely graphic summation of years of effort, art, and expectation, it’s also a pleasant remembrance of performances past — in Sharpie!” says Doug Benidt, associate curator of Performing Arts. “From weather comments (right, that kind) to notes of appreciation to inspired doodles, signings are also reflective recaps of the energy and particulars surrounding each performance. Time continues to accelerate, and performances become colorful yet fleeting memories, so for us it’s an important moment during the engagement when an artist stops and considers their time at Walker with a silver autograph for posterity.”

Also included are the names of local performers — dancers who’ve participated in the Momentum series, theater artists who’ve been part of Out There, Choreographer’s Evening participants — including some, says Mills, whose time on the McGuire stage was their first exposure to national-level audiences.

“To me, it’s an equalizer. There are signatures of those who have never been on stage alongside those of some of the greats.”

All photos by Cameron Wittig.