The Newberry Opera House has a proud history dating back to 1881 when the construction of the Victorian Civic Gothic style building was completed. There were only 2,342 citizens in Newberry at that time; but through their vision, foresight, and generosity, they gifted generations to come with originally what was a combined municipal building (which housed a fire engine room, council chamber, police office and three jail cells) and a theatrical center (which contained an auditorium, three dressing rooms, a green room, cloak closet and a ticket office).
Costing some $30,000, the building was ceremoniously dedicated on February 20, 1882; and thus, began the tradition of not only bringing in live entertainment, but hosting community and College events. Transforming later into a movie theater and then suffering years of decline, today that same building stands as a testament to the commitment for the arts and the desire for historic preservation that truly makes both the City and County of Newberry a cherished place to call “home.” With notable Newberry citizens at the helm and with the continued foresight of the citizens of Newberry, the Opera House was renovated some twenty years ago and rose like the phoenix from the ashes to return to service as a vibrant performing arts center. Using the initial dedication date, twenty years ago on February 20, 1998, the Newberry Opera House was re-dedicated and has since successfully maintained its reputation as the “Entertainment Center of the Midlands.”
To commemorate the momentous occasion of two decades of live entertainment in a restored and historic theater, the Foundation Board of the Newberry Opera House and the Newberry Opera House Guild are hosting a month-long celebration showcasing Newberry’s musical talent. With a conscious decision to spotlight local talent and to engage local audiences, the anniversary celebration is being designed to memorialize the gift of the original Newberrians who first built and dedicated the Newberry Opera House and to honor those citizens who came together to return her to the service of the Arts and the Community 20 seasons ago.
Starting with a Community event on Tuesday, February 20, there will be a series of Tribute Tuesdays in which local schools and the general public have been invited to participate. On the first Tuesday (Feb. 20th) a full day of festivities has been planned. Beginning with WKDK’s live broadcast from the Opera House Lobby showcasing the music of those who have performed at the Opera House and interviews with local Newberrians, premier anniversary tours are scheduled every two hours from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The day will conclude with a free to the public program beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the theater with special guests and a ceremonial cake cutting to be followed by a reception in the Lobby. After the special program, an additional premier tour will also be given at 6:00 p.m. (Special arrangements have been made to continue the premier tours on the Saturdays between Feb. 20th and March. 20 at 10:00 a.m.) On the four successive Tuesdays, musical concerts will be given in honor of the Anniversary. February 27 at 6:30 p.m. is an evening of Newberry County Elementary School Honor Chorus performances. March 6 at 6:30 p.m. is a celebration of Middle and High School Honor Choruses and the Middle and County Honor High School Bands. Newberry College will be showcasing their talent on the evening of March 13 at 6:30 p.m., and the final celebration performance on March 20 at 7:00 p.m is an auditioned show of selected Newberry talent being called “The Sounds of Newberry.” Information concerning how interested individuals or groups might audition for this performance can be found on a link of the Opera House’s website (www.newberryoperahouse.com).
It has been and continues to be a grand tradition to bring world class entertainment to the stage of the Opera House, but the 20th Anniversary belongs to the people of Newberry. As executive director, Molly Fortune, says after introducing the performers night after night, “Welcome HOME to the Newberry Opera House.” This award winning historic theater belongs to the people of Newberry, and for her landmark twentieth anniversary celebration, she will host her own….HOME—Honoring Outstanding Musical Entertainment. Please join in celebrating the 20th Anniversary and share in the joy of music provided by Newberry County’s Schools ranging from the Elementary level through College! Tickets for each of the four evenings of musical performances will be General Admission and will be $5 for children and $10 for adults. These may be purchased online ( www.newberryoperahouse.com ) or at the Box Office and will be on a first come, first serve basis.
In conjunction with the festivities and in honor of such a special anniversary or birthday, a wish list has been created. Executive Director Molly Fortune, and her staff, were asked to create such a list so that those who wish to contribute in celebration of this landmark occasion could do so. After 20 years, highly utilized items like stackable chairs, tables, and tablecloths need replacing. Certain interior areas need repainting, and the dressing rooms need a facelift. Benches would greatly enhance the Lobby area, and a refurbished kitchen by the bar and the bar area itself (with additional refrigerated coolers) would be most appreciated. Plumbing updates with improved faucets in the bathrooms are items of concern. A supply of LCD bulbs would be most beneficial, as would a new projector to accommodate the onset of technology additions to performances.
The Newberry Opera House is a jewel whose value transcends time. Her tower proudly symbolizes a municipality comprised of citizens whose commitment to the arts, the education of the arts, and to the quality of life makes a profound statement of progressive and yet historic achievement. Bringing an enhancement of life that introduces us to a world of cultures, musical styles, and engaging entertainment, the Newberry Opera House is a gift in itself. At this special time in the history of this historic and award winning performing arts center, we have the opportunity to give back to her as we continue to make her a gift to the generations to come. “Welcome HOME to the Newberry Opera House.” Whether attending one of the Tribute Tuesdays or making a contribution towards those items identified on the wish list, you are invited to be part of her history. This is a celebration for the people and by the people of Newberry—at HOME here in Newberry where welcoming arms embrace those who have lived here all their lives and those who come “HOME” by choice.
Denise Reid is the chairman of the Newberry Opera House Foundation Board.