Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

The Abbeville Opera House is a real treasure

Posted 7/26/2010 11:45:00 AM

When you visit the Abbeville Opera House, look up to the balcony level. There among the modern, red seats you will find a single, ancient-looking chair.

That chair is left there for the ghost of a young actress who, after falling ill and dying during a performance at the theater, haunts the opera house.

The tragic actress apparently isn’t the theater’s only spirit. It is rumored that the ghost of an African-American workman who died during the construction of the theater also haunts the backstage areas.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, one thing is for certain: the beautifully restored Abbeville Opera House is a place where the past is alive.

In the early 1900s, Abbeville was a common stopover for theatrical road companies travelling from New York to Atlanta. With theater companies already spending the night in their town, the citizens of Abbeville got an idea. If they had a theater of their own, certainly the companies, who already stopped for the night in the town, could be enticed to perform.

In 1908 the citizens of Abbeville got their wish with the opening of the Abbeville Opera House.

For years, the theater thrived as a venue for touring productions of popular Broadway plays and musicals like The Ziegfeld Follies, Shakespeare, Vaudeville acts, minstrel shows and burlesque. Beginning in the 1920s, the opera house also became a popular venue for motion pictures, which eventually replaced live theater entirely on its stage. The Abbeville Opera House continued as a movie theater until the 1950s, when the accessibility of television caused the death of many of the nation’s movie houses.

The space sat largely unused until the late 1960s, when a local community theater group began a campaign to restore and renovate the opera house to be used for its original purpose: presenting live theater. Today the opera house has been restored in full 1900s style; the only modern changes to the theater’s design are the addition of more comfortable seats and the installation of air-conditioning.

Stop by Abbeville and take a look at this magnificent theater or, better yet, see a show there. The Abbeville Opera House boasts both summer and winter seasons. This August the opera house will present Man of Constant Sorrow, based on the lives of Ralph and Carter Stanley. You might be familiar with their Grammy Award-winning bluegrass songs that were featured in the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

For more information on the Abbeville Opera House or to buy tickets to a play there visit www.theabbevilleoperahouse.com.