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The Old Opera House
The Old Opera House
In 1910, Annie G. Packette, whose family tree included George Washington, raised $50,000 and employed a Washington, D.C. architect to design and construct the New Opera House. Seating 500 people, this opera house came complete with fly-space for hanging scenery above the proscenium stage, an orchestra pit and a curved balcony.
Even though, The Old Opera House lived through two wars, a depression and the invention of the radio, the stage went dark in 1948.
Then in 1971, Dixie Kilham, owner of Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry, and Robert and Diane Angel contacted Mr. and Mrs. Todd (owners of the building) about using the old abandoned theatre for local productions. The Todds agreed and thus the cleaning began.
Now clean, local citizens formed a theatre group. In 1973 the Todds generously donated the land and building to the theatre group, and the Opera House came back to life as the Old Opera House Theatre Company, Inc., a non-profit organization. Their goal is to restore the theatre as a center for the arts, to preserve history, to offer professional theatre, and to train young people in the arts.
With monetary backup through fundraising, restoration on the old theatre began. The 4,000-square foot ceiling was re-plastered, a new floor was laid and new seats were installed. An adjoining pool hall was transformed into the Old Opera House Theatre Workshop with offices established upstairs.
In October 1976, the "new" Old Opera House opened its mainstage doors to the public with a production of My Fair Lady. Since then, the offerings of the theatre have continued to increase in diversity and frequency. In 1978, the theatre building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and over time, the season has expanded to offer six mainstage productions, one summer children's show and theatre camp, dinner theatre, concerts, and black box theatre. Since 1998 the Old Opera House has continued to see audience growth. Productions such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1998), The Sound of Music (2001), and Grease (2004) continue to set new records for audience attendance.
The theatre is supported by an active Theatre Guild, which meets monthly, holds fundraising activities, and contributes to beautification projects for the theatre. The Op Shop, a secondhand clothing store completely operated by volunteers, contributes all of their net income to the theatre and is a source for costumes.
In 2001, the Theatre Company became a United Way partner agency in Jefferson County. This inclusion was a significant step in emphasizing the role that "quality of life" organizations play in benefiting the community.
Miracle on 34th Street is the next show at the Old Opera House. Will Severin, Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder and John Vreeke adapted the play based on the novel by Valentine Davies. This classic story of an uptight store manager and her daughter who fail to appreciate the magic of Christmas until they meet a gentle, white-bearded man who claims to be the one-and-only Kris Kringle, is sure to be a sell-out.
The Old Opera House hopes to broaden their programming without losing their core audience. They have also set goals to improve and add to the existing structure.
The Old Opera House is located at 204 N. George Street in Charles Town, West Virginia. For more information visit them online at www.oldoperahouse.org or call 304-725-4420 or toll free at 888-900-SHOW.
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