NEWBERRY — In a room at the Newberry Opera House that the general public rarely has an opportunity to see, there is a unique testament to the place of the Opera House in the history of Newberry and the world of performing arts.
On its walls are the signatures of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of entertainers that span the decades since 1948 and include everyone from Willie Nelson to Debby Boone and members of the Moscow City Ballet.
Since the renovation of the Opera House in 1998, the Green Room, as it is known, has served as a little slice of home for artists appearing at the venue.
Here, artists are treated to a hot, homemade meal, along with snacks, treats and anything else they need to keep them going through a long day of set up, sound checks, rehearsals and performances.
In the nearly 20 years since the Green Room first came into being, the space had become a bit worn around the edges – counters were scratched, cabinets and appliances outdated. So last fall, the Opera House Guild earmarked the proceeds from its annual Oyster Roast to be used to renovate and spruce up the Green Room.
In addition, the Guild and Opera House board agreed that the Green Room would be dedicated in honor and memory of long-time Opera House supporters and cheerleaders, Cile and Robert Barber.
The Green Room renovations will be unveiled and dedicated in a 2:30 p.m. ceremony Aug. 21 at the Opera House.
Robert Barber died in 2015, but Cile Barber said he would be “thrilled to death but humble and appreciative” of the honor.
“I am not a braggy person, but I brag on Newberry and the Opera House,” she said. “We have traveled quite a bit and wherever we go, people know about the Opera House.”
The Barber name has been linked to the Opera House since before it reopened in the 1990s. Cile Barber recalls the first time she ever went into the building.
“We had heard Jimmy Wiseman speak about the building and he asked if we wanted to see it and we said yes, and he said, ‘Meet me there today at 5,’ so we did. There were bats flying all around and it was all dirty but we fell in love with it,” she recalled.
Working with Wiseman and other charter supporters of the Opera House, the Barbers got the building cleaned up and hosted an evening with author Pat Conroy to kick off the road to renovating the building and opening it permanently as a performing arts center.
With her husband gone, Barber spends less time in Newberry and more in her hometown of Charleston. She recently retired after 20 years on the Opera House board, but she will never leave Newberry behind.
“I’m Charleston born and raised, but Newberry took my heart,” she said.
Going into the next 20 years, artists who enjoy meals in the renovated Green Room will see a plaque dedicating the space to the Barbers and peruse the signatures that line the walls and likely add their own.
The food will still be prepared from scratch by long time volunteers Iris Rodelsperger and Polly Davis. Rodelsperger has been serving meals there for nearly 20 years and Davis for 15.
In any given day, they may feed as few as two people or as many as 30. It may just be one hot meal, or they may need to make lunches and breakfasts. It is estimated that Rodelsperger worked more than 7,000 hours last year.
“The artists who come here love it. It is much more of a family atmosphere than they find in most venues. Those that have been here before know Iris and Polly by name and will ask for things like Iris’s pumpkin dip,” said Molly Fortune, executive director of the Opera House. “It was always a special place with its own quirks, and it’s like a person who gets new glasses or a new hairdo: they are still the same person with the same special quirks, but with a lift.”
All of the renovation work and materials were donated or offered at a discount by Michael Gustufson and David Lucas, West Electric, Hazel Plumbing, and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
“We cannot thank all of the local merchants and contractors enough for their generosity,” said Denise Reid, former Guild president and one of the Guild members tasked with overseeing the Green Room project. “The success of the Opera House can in great part be attributed to Cile and Bobby Barber and their family. Their caring, generosity, and involvement have left an extraordinary legacy for Newberry and its presentation of the performing arts.
“Always exhibiting wisdom, grace, and magnanimous hospitality, their contributions of time and talent have been difference makers for the Opera House,” Reid added. “The Barbers are special people to Newberry and the Opera House and to have something at the Opera House that will endure and be a daily reminder of their commitment and generosity is a great gift.”