Historic Theaters of South Carolina


♪ Newberry is very well known. Not only on the national stage but on the international stage for what it does. It’s only four hundred and twenty six seats that it that’s a small house compare to some of its contemporaries. The theatre was built in Eighteen Eighty One. Newberry at the time was twenty five hundred people. They decided to spend thirty thousand dollars to build a multi purpose
facility and it is of a Victorian look. It’s very brick, it’s very heavy, It’s got that beautiful detail but it again it with multi purpose and a time period where that was somewhat new. So downstairs, when they finally opened the doors in Eighteen Eighty Two after completing it was the jail, was the fire house, was the courthouse, was the city council chambers. It was thriving and bustling and upstairs was the opera house. So after a five million dollar restoration and it really wasn’t a restoration, it was a rehab. Let’s bring her up, let’s bring this old woman up to to really show her
personality in the modern age. We got the lobby, we had this
space up here. Which we reconfigured to be more of the
original Eighteen Eighty, Eighteen Eighty Two look
and we started having world class events, just like we had.
Our facility is small. Our stage is small but we get major acts. We have Wynton Marsalis coming up from
the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. That’s huge and
that’s because were known on the world stage. We have had Willie
Nelson as we talked about. We’ve had,
we have Jane Lynch coming up from Glee. People know about
us. We’ve had our own stars from the ballet guilds and from
the schools. Those are stars that are born here, too. So
this building has become more of a community center in the
last twenty years, twenty one years. That it really was when
it opened in Eighteen Eighty Two. Why are these performances important historic theaters?
Because historic theaters are the repositories for memories
and emotions that have happened time and time again. There’s
this thread, that is woven between the generations and
that’s what historic theaters do. They provide the backdrop
for an amazing tapestry of emotions of experiences. It’s a
performance. It’s going home and talking about it and having
that adrenaline rush. That’s what historic theaters do. ♪ There’s a lot that theater accomplishes beyond just being
an entertainment for an audience. It’s the only artform that really connects the actors to the audience. The doors of the Abbeville Opera House opened on October Tenth,
Nineteen Oh Eight and at that time a lot of road companies
were coming out of New York City and one of the most popular tours for the Vaudeville circuit was from New York to Richmond, Virginia and then from Richmond on to Atlanta. So from the Eighteen Eighties on, ever major road company was coming through Abbeville on the way to performing
in Atlanta and the community decided, if we had a theater
facility here we could sponsor a lot of these New York shows.
So they wrote to New York to the Keith circuit, which is one of the popular Vaudeville circuits at the time and told them about
what they were thinking about the Keith circuit sent them the
ground plans to a theater, where a lot of Vaudeville shows
were produced and eight years later, the historic Abbeville Opera House opened its doors. The Abbeville Opera House
though, will remind you of a lot of the Broadway theaters that
you see in Manhattan to this day. It’s seventy five feet to our grid. Another twenty five or
thirty feet to the ceiling. So this wonderful seventy eight
hundred square foot stage back there. When you add that
together and consider that that stage floor is on the second
floor and we have a costume and storage area beneath the stage floor. That makes our back wall one of the largest freestanding brick walls left in the country. The Abbeville Opera House was first restored to its original turn of the century condition way back in Nineteen Sixty Eight. An it paved the way for the restoration and the revitalization of the entire
Abbeville county. About eighty five percent of our attendance
comes not just from outside Abbeville, but outside the
state of South Carolina as well. We have tour buses from North
and South Carolina, Georgia Florida, Tennessee who come here
on a regular basis to see many different shows here that we do at the Abbeville Opera House. It means so much. I mean as long as it’s been here in the
entertainment and the way it’s affected the community, and drawn people from all over the upstate counties, we need to keep it going. The creativity, watching the play come together,
watching everything form, it’s just a wonderful experience. And you bond with the cast members. It’s a great time. To sit in the audience and watch a show here, you’re
actually part, the actors on the stage and the audience. The
interaction between them in a theater this size is just amazing. It’s really something to watch. People have been coming to this spot for almost three hundred years to have performances, musicals and chamber music. The first theater in America was built on this site in Seventeen Thirty Six. It was called the Dock Street Theatre and it opened with the recruiting officer, which is the first play in America and then it disappears. Probably burned down. We don’t know exactly what happened to it. They built a hotel on the site
about Eighteen Hundred and in the Nineteen Thirties the WPA, a Federal works project, took over the building and inside of
the shell of the old hotel they built a new theater called the
new Dock Street Theatre, which opened in Nineteen Thirty
Seven. Although they made it look like a theater, that was
built in Seventeen Thirty Six. They gutted the hotel room area, which is what we’re
sitting in now and then rebuilt a seventeen hundred theater in it’s place. Four hundred sixty odd seating. When I give a tour in here, I
will seat my visitors behind me here in the in the balcony and I’ll stand in box “O,” which is up right here on the stage but I can actually speak in a normal
voice in that box and they can hear every word I say.
Which is a very great tribute to the men and women who
designed this building. “Pay up or move out.”
We’ve been performing here for forty years. Actually the very
first production was a production of a Christmas Carol
back in Nineteen Seventy Eight. We produce that show about
every other year. In fact this year’s our twenty first
Christmas Carol, as well. We get to tell many of the stories of our own community in our own state. We’ve had original plays like “The Seat of Justice” which is about the Briggs vs Elliott case. We did a play called “Gershwin At Folly,” which is about Gershwin writing
“Porgy and Bess.” So we try not only to bring plays from New York and around the country but to tell our own stories as well. We have many homes in Charleston that people walk through you
know you go through as a tourist these beautiful homes.
ineffective museums. This is not a museum. This is a live building. And the men and women in here that are part of it. The men and woman on the stage, all the people in the audience,it’s an interactive piece. To see it here live with human beings on the stage, there’s a magnetism, there’s
a dynamics you can feel it when you walk
out the door.

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