NEWBERRY — Molly Fortune, executive director of the Newberry Opera House (NOH) was recently appointed to serve as president on the board of the League of Historic American Theaters (LHAT).
Fortune, who is currently the vice-president will begin her term as president starting July 1, 2020.
LHAT encompasses historic theaters all over the United States, Canada as well as theaters in the United Kingdom. The group has approximately 1,000 members. Fortune has been a member of the group for about 20 years.
Together, the board has developed a scholarship program as well as a peer advisory review. All of the Broadway houses are members of LHAT, Fortune said all the way down to the small city of Atkinson, Kan.
“I serve on a board with the guys that run Hamilton to the theater that has 115 seats that’s making one million dollars a year,” Fortune said.
When a theater calls, whether the call is to Fortune or another board member, they know who they need to speak with to help their theater, she said.
“For example, a theater may call to request you speak with their City Council prior to a building being demolished to explain the benefits of that particular space for economic development,” Fortune said.
Fortune obtained her master’s degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Historic Preservation with an emphasis in Policy and Conservation, where she graduated first in her class. Using this degree, Fortune said she has set up different types of policy and governmental laws as well as handled material conservation including how to deal with mold on bricks, different types of fabrics, etc. for other organizations.
After working for the federal government for many years as their historic architect, Fortune obtained a position at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Ga. when her husband’s job located their family there. The Fox Theatre is the only theater in the country, Fortune said, with a full-time restoration department.
“They did building maintenance, HVAC and roof repairs down to lighting and restoration of historic furniture. Everything was restored,” she said.
Moving up in the theatre, Fortune began working within all operations and eventually worked into starting a program at the theatre about how to help historic theatres become economic drivers.
After inventorying all of Georgia, Fortune found that the state had 352 historic theatres and how they could be transformed for economic development for the towns they were located in.
“You have a historic theatre, which gets people downtown, eventually people begin to relocate downtown, and it then trickles down to the retailers’ aspect,” Fortune said.
Using her background and knowledge gained from telling the story of how historic theatres could impact a community, Fortune said LHAT scooped her up and wanted her to be a primary player.
While in Georgia, Fortune was their state representative on the board and is now the representative for South Carolina. Each year, the group puts together a resource manual on policy changes as well as any changes related to materials that theatres may be using and how to handle these materials.
Economic surveys are also done of the field, Fortune said so on a business side, theatres can see where they stand amongst the nation.
Fortune’s place on the board she said gives the City of Newberry a whole lot of legitimacy. However, she reminds the community that Newberry was already on the map prior to her arriving at the Opera House.
“It shows that this community has legitimacy for economic development and international recognition to have someone participating in their community on the board,” Fortune said.
Because of her place in the league, Fortune said she also feels that it puts Newberry at an advantage for better customer service.
“We [the league] know the trends before a lot of people,” she said. “Being in this league we’ll know the trends as they happen from patron safety to ticketing and all of the wonderful things to make for better customer service to our patrons and visitors.”