Eighteen eighty-one, United States. President James Garfield is assassinated. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company. Billy the Kid escapes Lincoln County Jail in Mesilia, N.M. On October 26, the Clanton gang face off against the Earps in a gunfight at the OK Corral.
At the same time, in Newberry, S.C., construction of the Newberry Opera House was completed at a cost of $30,000. A gas lighting system for the theater was installed with a reflector, or “sun burner,” for added brilliance. Drop curtains and seven scenes were available for the stage.
Fast forward to 2019. The Newberry Opera House is still in operation, though the shows are a little different these days. “Roy Rogers and Gene Autry played here,” explains Technical Director Mark Sanders, “and there’s a story that one of them brought their horse up the stairs for the show. When the show was over, the horse wouldn’t go down the stairs, so they had to rig a harness through the window upstage and get the horse down to the ground that way.”
Talk about a rough load-out.
The Opera House served not only as a performance space, but was also used by the community for meetings, dances and city functions. In the early 1900s, it hosted silent movies. A Thomas Edison “Talkie”—which used a phonograph record for sound—was presented at the Opera House in the late ‘teens. Movies began replacing big stage shows, and in the 1920s the venue was remodeled as a movie theater. It continued to be used as a movie house until it closed in 1952, and by 1959 there was discussion about demolishing it. The Newberry Historical Society (along with several other community groups) promoted the preservation of the Opera House, and in 1970 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A restoration of the exterior was completed in 1994, and renovation of the interior began in 1996. An additional 10,000 square feet was added to the original building in order to create a full theatrical production facility. Total cost of the renovation was approximately $5.5 million.
This year the Newberry Opera House will host more than 150 shows, ranging from The Kingdom Choir to Once: The Broadway Musical to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Blue Öyster Cult (gratuitous plug) to ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. Amazing.
A picture showing the original “parking lot” of the Newberry Opera House is reproduced here. “The park in front was just a big corral where you’d tie up your horse,” Sanders explains. “It’s cool to think that a guy had a similar job to mine here at the theater, rode his horse to work, tied up the horse in the corral, did a show and rode his horse home after work.”
Capacity of the Newberry Opera House is 426—making for a very intimate space. “It’s a warm, solid room that resonates really well,” says Steve Windsor, House Audio Engineer. “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”
The house system includes Yamaha M7CL consoles at front of house and monitors, Worx Audio X3i-p powered line array for the mains, Worx Audio X1i-P line array for the balcony, Bose 203s for downstage front-fill, and Danley TH115 subwoofers powered by QSC amplification. Installation was handled by Sid Gattis of Gattis Pro Audio, Lexington S.C.
The mix position can be a little tricky because it’s dark compared to the center of the main floor. If your mix is bright at the FOH console, you’ll take the heads off people in rows F through H. The quandary of the mix position is that unlike most under-balcony mix positions, where the high end of the P.A. is attenuated, the bass is also attenuated. If the bottom end is pumping at the FOH desk, you’ll make people sitting on the main floor sick to their stomachs. Be sure you take a stroll around the room during soundcheck.
The Newberry Opera House has been at the heart of Newberry County for more than 100 years, serving both as the cultural center of the region and, more recently, as home for the City’s fire, police, transportation, and municipal services. If you’re in the area, be sure to drop by for a visit—or better yet, catch a show there.