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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
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 28 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.
What are we doing now?
the historic Abbeville Opera House
is one hundred and five years old.
As a continuing work-in-progress, the turn-of-the-century theatre
requires constant maintenance and upkeep.
recently, we finished a complete renovation of the backstage
Dressing Rooms - restoring them to their original and beautiful
turn-or-the-last-century condition - at a cost of $31,000.
Another recent renovation, the Balcony Restoration Project – (the
plastering, painting, upholstering, renovation, carpeting and
remodeling of the balcony area of the auditorium) – at a cost of
$30,000 – was completed in May 2003.
On June 1,
2001, a fundraising project entitled “There’s No Light at the
End of Our Tunnel” was completed - resulting in the purchase
and installation of a new state-of-the-art lighting system for
the theatre. In addition to the installation of the theatrical
lighting system, new wiring was installed throughout the theatre
and new electrical outlets and connectors were installed - at a
cost of $29,000.
In the year
2000, a $20,000 fund raising campaign entitled “We’re
at the End of Our Ropes” was completed – resulting in the
purchase and installation of a new rigging system above the 7500
sq. ft. stage. This rigging equipment, used for the movement of
scenery, lighting equipment and other production elements is an
integral part of the on-stage theatre facility.
year, during the 21st year of operation for the
Summer Theatre Season, a new 25-ton $14,000 air
conditioning unit was purchased and installed.
the result of another extended $21,000 fund raising
campaign saw the installation of new carpeting in the downstairs
auditorium, as well as the reupholstering and refurbishing of
the theatre seats.
In 1990, a
major fund raising campaign raised $90,000 and resulted
in the construction of a new roof on the building as well as the
remodeling of the box office and the installation of an elevator
in the lobby – making the Abbeville Opera House handicap
accessible for the first time in its one hundred year history.
We are now in
the process of completely renovating our backstage dressing room
area – creating storage for costumes with both exterior building and
dressing room access and restoring the dressing rooms to their
original turn-of-the-century condition.
Abbeville Opera House is run by a volunteer Board of Governors and
produces approximately 40 weekends of live theatre each year. In
the twelve-month period following the most recent Balcony
Restoration Project, the theatre will attract over 17,500 visitors
to our community. The summer theatre season is beginning 34th
year of operation. Many civic, church and tour groups from
throughout the southeast attend performances each year.
it’s initial restoration in 1968, the Abbeville Opera House is
generally considered to be the catalyst for the revitalization of
the entire Abbeville community.