The Live Arts Destination for the Midlands
Centrally located in historic downtown Newberry, SC, the Newberry Opera House is the destination for entertainment in the Midlands of SC and beyond. Offering a diverse mix of performances and historic preservation, it is the perfect place to experience the thrill of live entertainment.
Constructed to Lead, Designed to Inspire
Newberry Opera House has been the heart of Newberry County since its dedication in 1882. Designed by G. L. Norman and built at a cost of $30,000, the building is an example of Victorian civic eclectic architecture. The French Gothic clock tower dominates the city’s skyline.
It was designed as a place of entertainment for the local citizenry and as a seat of government for the city and constructed with brick from three local brickyards. The granite came from a quarry approximately two miles outside of the city limits. The talents of local craftsmen in woodworking and masonry were used throughout the construction.
The original design called for the first floor to house the fire engine room, council chambers, a clerk’s office, a police officer, and three jail cells. The second floor was a hall 53 by 52 feet with a stage 29 by 52 feet. In connection with the hall were a ticket office, a “green room”, a cloakroom, and three dressing rooms.
The building has a tower 130 feet high topped with a garfish weathervane, and the tower houses an E. Howard Tower town clock, 90 feet from the ground. A gas lighting system was installed with a reflector, or “sun burner”, for added brilliance. Drop curtains and seven scenes for the stage were provided. One scene, a landscape, survived to the late 20th century.
The Opera House quickly became known as “the entertainment center of the Midlands.” On its stage appeared touring companies of New York plays, minstrel and variety shows, famed vocalists and lecturers, magicians and mind readers, novelty acts, and boxing exhibitions. Tallulah Bankhead, Tex Ritter, and members of the famous Barrymore family are said to have performed in the historic structure.
From the Stage to the Silver Screen
The Opera House was used not only by professional performers but also by the community. Meetings, dances, college commencement exercises, and musicals were held in the spacious auditorium. Silent “moving pictures” were shown in the early 1900s. A “Thomas Edison Talkie” was presented in the late teens, using a phonograph record for sound. Slowly, movies replaced the big stage shows, and in the 1920s the Opera House was remodeled as a movie theater.
In 1952 with the showing of The Outlaw, the Opera House closed as a movie theater. By 1959, there was talk of tearing it down, but a public outcry stopped the wrecking ball. In 1969, the Newberry Historical Society promoted the preservation of the Opera House, as did several other community groups and in 1970 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Talk of restoring the building as a performing arts venue was ongoing through the 1970s and 1980s. Citizens such as Dr. Jim Wiseman kept these talks alive. They knew that restoration required significant planning and resources so they established the Opera House Foundation to study the feasibility of restoration. They consulted with historic renovation specialists, engineers, and theater consultants from South Carolina and around the country, all of whom agreed that the Opera House could be renovated and returned to its original use as a venue for the performing arts.
The exterior restoration and window replacement were completed in 1994 and interior renovation began in 1996. The restored structure married historical accuracy with a state-of-the-art performance space equipped with superior lighting and sound systems and a Bayreuth orchestra pit that easily accommodates Broadway and operatic productions. The theater boasts a full-size rehearsal hall with an acoustically soundproof, electrically locked door. Restoration also included a 10,000-square-foot addition to house a new loading dock, an elevator, a second stage for rehearsal, and dressing rooms. The improvements for the building incorporate full accessibility and an assisted hearing capability (TDD). The seating capacity is 426. The total cost of the renovation was approximately $5,500,000.
Following restoration, the Opera House reopened in the fall of 1998. The House has played host to thousands of performances from Grammy winners to internationally renowned performers to regional and local acts. Stars such as Willie Nelson, Roberta Flack, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Bolton, Olivia Newton-John, and even Flava Flav have graced the stage. The 150+ events a year range from country, folk, and bluegrass to classical, operatic, and ballet; from theatrical productions to family adventure shows featuring everything from dog shows and ice shows to puppets made of light. In addition, the Opera House brings traveling exhibits, such as the Smithsonian’s Crossroads: Change in Rural America.
This infusion of artists and visitors into the community has led to an economic rebirth and a growing reputation for Newberry as an arts center and arts destination. Hotels, restaurants, specialty shops, antique malls, a variety of art galleries and studios, and art programs for children and adults – all are part of the impact of the Opera House.
The Newberry Opera House is a 501(c)(3) organization operated by the Newberry Opera House Foundation. As a nonprofit and community institution, the Opera House is also a place for public meetings, school performances, and local artist opportunities. In order to make sure that the Opera House is serving the whole community, an initiative called Newberry Arts for All (NAFA) was created. It sponsors free outdoor concerts, ticket scholarships, student performances, and a summer Astronaut STEAM camp. Partnerships with the city, the school system, Newberry College, the local arts community, and area non-profits ensure that diverse voices and interests are fully represented in programming, board membership, and decision-making.
In 2004, the Newberry Opera House Guild was created. It provides financial support and helps promote the Opera House throughout the Midlands. The Guild is open to anyone with an interest in helping to raise funds to support the performing arts and in helping to educate and enliven the surrounding communities through the arts.
NAFA, the Guild, and the many outreach efforts bring citizens from all walks of life into the Opera House where everyone is made to feel welcome. We can’t wait to welcome you home soon!
A Place That Is Your Own
The arts are for everyone. The Newberry Opera House strives to enhance the cultural and economic development of Newberry and the Midlands through the window of the arts. We are committed to fostering a sense of community engagement where the arts are accessible to all.
Anne Pinckney Smith
Events & Programming ManagerTJ@NewberryOperaHouse.com
Ticketing & Groups Operations ManagerNydia@NewberryOperaHouse.com
Board of Directors
Owner – Newberry Yoga
President & CEO – Newberry Electric Co-Op
Parts Manager – Wilson Tractor
Head Pharmacist – Lorex Drug
President/CEO – Carolina Comfort
Superintendent – School District of Newberry County
Mayor – City of Newberry
President – Newberry College
Retired Healthcare Executive
Retired Federal Employee
Newberry College Center for Diversity and Inclusion