About the Abbeville Opera House

At the turn of the century there were many "road companies" producing shows in New York City. Once the production was assembled, the show traveled throughout the country. One of the more popular tours went from New York to Richmond to Atlanta. For a number of years, Abbeville was an overnight stop for the entire touring company. Several members of the community decided that if this area had a facility, since the traveling companies were coming through the area anyway, Abbeville could sponsor some of these touring productions. On October 1, 1908, what was then the Abbeville District dedicated a new Court House and City Hall. The grand old theatre now known as the Abbeville Opera House was a part of that splendid pair of buildings "equal in beauty of architecture and modern conveniences of any in the state," according to regional newspaper accounts of the day. From that time on, all the "greats and near greats" played on the magnificent Opera House stage. Vaudeville was in its "heyday" as was Abbeville and the famous Abbeville Opera House. Today, most people who visit the historic Abbeville Opera House, see a building that represents a microcosm of the history of Abbeville, South Carolina, since the turn-of-the-century. Efforts toward preservation and renewal of Abbeville (long known as the "birthplace and deathbed of the confederacy,") and the renewal of the Abbeville Opera House began some thirty years ago with the beautifully restored Abbeville Opera House continuing to be one of the strongest drawing cards for the tourism industry in the upstate of South Carolina. The theatre, under the Executive Direction of Michael Genevie, operates year round. The 218 newly refurbished seats face a 7,800 square foot stage. The balcony has 92 seats and the turn of the century boxes seat up to 6 people in each of the four box seats. The Abbeville Opera House's programming includes a broad range of material, presenting approximately 100 performances in the combined Winter and Summer Theatre Seasons. Each play is directed and produced in Abbeville with the theatre operating over 36 weekends a year. A typical season is filled with popular Broadway musicals, comedies, mysteries and dramas.

The Abbeville Opera House was recently designated as the Official Rural Drama State Theatre of South Carolina. Our summer theatre season will begin its 34th year of operation next summer, having twice received the South Carolina Governor’s Travel Award for Tourism. The Summer and Winter theatre season combined attract approximately 20,000 people each year to the theatre. Many civic, church and tour groups from throughout the southeast attend performances each year.

Restored to its original turn-of-the-century condition in 1968, the continuing renovation and restoration of this wonderful and historic theatre is an ongoing process. Although the dressing rooms are used for every performance at the Abbeville Opera House, they have never been renovated and are in dire need of attention. The historic Abbeville Opera House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been a not for profit (501 – c – 3) corporation since 1958. At the turn of the century there were many "road companies" producing shows in New York City. Once the production was assembled, the show traveled throughout the country. One of the more popular tours went from New York to Richmond to Atlanta. For a number of years, Abbeville was an overnight stop for the entire touring company. Several members of the community decided that if this area had a facility, since the traveling companies were coming through the area anyway, Abbeville could sponsor some of these touring productions. On October 1, 1908, what was then the Abbeville District dedicated a new Court House and City Hall. The grand old theatre now known as the Abbeville Opera House was a part of that splendid pair of buildings "equal in beauty of architecture and modern conveniences of any in the state," according to regional newspaper accounts of the day. From that time on, all the "greats and near greats" played on the magnificent Opera House stage. Vaudeville was in its "heyday" as was Abbeville and the famous Abbeville Opera House. Today, most people who visit the historic Abbeville Opera House, see a building that represents a microcosm of the history of Abbeville, South Carolina, since the turn-of-the-century. Efforts toward preservation and renewal of Abbeville (long known as the "birthplace and deathbed of the confederacy,") and the renewal of the Abbeville Opera House began some thirty-five years ago with the beautifully restored Abbeville Opera House continuing to be one of the strongest drawing cards for the tourism industry in the upstate of South Carolina. The theatre operates year round with 218 newly refurbished seats facing a 7,800 square foot stage. The newly renovated balcony has 75 seats; and, the turn of the century boxes seat up to 6 people in each of the four box seats. The Abbeville Opera House's programming includes a broad range of material, presenting approximately 100 performances in the combined Winter and Summer Theatre Seasons. Each play is directed and produced in Abbeville with the theatre operating over 36 weekends a year. A typical season is filled with popular Broadway musicals, comedies, mysteries and dramas.

A Word from the Executive Director of the historic Abbeville Opera House ...

Theatres throughout the country are gearing up for another great season. We open our doors brimming with hope and energy for the upcoming shows. Will that brand new drama have subscribers on their feet calling for an encore or on their feet heading for the nearest exit? Will the expensive musical production break even? Will audience members realize that they can get a season membership to the theatre of their choice for less than the price of a tank of gasoline? Or will fuel costs prevent them from coming to the theatre altogether? Such are the worries of theatre directors throughout the country.

Theatre is a business. It is also an art. These stand not in opposition to each other, but hand in hand; the only reason for one is the existence of the other. Theatre must survive financially, and it must communicate aesthetically. Theatre exists as much for the spectator as it does for the purveyor, and it is this union that has made the historic Abbeville Opera House so rewarding and successful.

We try to offer a variety of plays for our audiences. This has always been our purpose and our desire. We understand that not all plays appeal to everyone. Box Office records will attest to that. Having been the director of this wonderful turn-of-the-century theatre for 36 years, I realize that most people come to the theatre to be entertained – to “escape.” For that reason, both our Winter and our Summer Seasons are heavily weighted with comedies and mysteries and musicals. The same can be said of most community and regional theatres throughout the country. But there is also a place and, I believe, a need for more substance.

Theatre is a very powerful art. Theatre demands a wide scope – and it is too elegant and too complex for that scope to be denied. It is certainly not our intention to offend any of our patrons, and we go out of our way to make sure that our audience members are aware of the subject matter of our shows. A Streetcar Named Desire, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Agnes of God, That Championship Season, Mass Appeal, Foxfire – and others that I have blocked from my memory – have all been Box Office failures for our theatre – but they have also been some of the most powerful and artistically rewarding plays on our stage. The intention of these shows goes beyond entertainment. With these shows we try to make an audience think and feel; to become angry; to realize things about themselves and about others; to educate; to call attention to situations that need our attention. We are in no way making light of the musicals, and the comedies and the mysteries – they will forever be our mainstay – but just as there are apples and oranges, there are different shows for different folks and I hope we will always be able to offer such a variety.

The Abbeville Opera House relies heavily on theatre patrons from out of town and from out of state. Our past summer theatre season attracted almost 17,000 visitors to our theatre. We hope to be able to do the same with the upcoming winter theatre season. But who knows? Welcome to the dilemma of a director.

We’ve got a great line up of shows this season at the Abbeville Opera House. I only hope that the increased fuel costs don’t keep theatre patrons at home. A season membership to the Abbeville Opera House is still one of the best entertainment values anywhere and with everything that is going on in the world, we all need an evening out every once in a while. Why not make that evening a live theatre experience? Something magical happens when you step through the doors of a theatre. You enter a world of illusion and changing identities, a world of make-believe where things are not quite what they seem. In the moments before a play begins, the theatre comes alive. Late arrivals apologize as they squeeze their way through to their seats, program pages rustle and general gossip is exchanged. The audience is divided into many separate little groups. Then suddenly, the lights dim, the last whispers of conversation fade away and the audience becomes one - transported across time into another world created by the author, director, designer, set builders, costumers, lighting and sound engineers, property supervisor, box office staff, stage manager and actors. There is a transformative power that affects both artists and audiences. Why not give it a try? You might enjoy it. In order for us to make the best use of the theatre, we must strive to make the best theatre we can. And in order to do that, we need your support. Theatre is a collaborative art form. All those people I mentioned in the above paragraph work together to create theatre. But the art form that is theatre cannot exist without an audience. No audience – no theatre. Painters and sculptors can create works of art all alone in their studios. Composers can create masterful compositions sitting alone at a piano. But theatre doesn’t exist without an audience. So the next time you think about going out, think about going out to the theatre. You might be disappointed. But then again, you might not.