A history lesson on Town Theatre in Columbia, SC

Town Theatre’s famous arched window | Photo by COLAtoday team

Last time we ran a historical marker series conversation, our readers voted to learn about Columbia’s Town Theatre. We want to transport you back to June of 1919 to introduce America’s longest continuously-operating community theater

Town Theatre’s historical marker | Photo by COLAtoday team

🎭 Allow us to set the stage

The founders of Town Theatre were not actors, producers, or professionals. They were groups of individuals who came together + created a space of creativity through theater. 

These individuals joined forces with the Columbia Drama Leaguea group of citizens interested in promoting live theater in the city — and created The Columbia Stage Society.

🎭 Act one: 

June 25, 1919

John D. Neal the First Secretary of The Columbia Stage Societybirthed Town Theatre out of his famous statement on June 25, 1919:

”A stage society has been organized in Columbia for the purpose of encouraging and developing musical, vocal, and dramatic talent in this city and to furnish entertainment to those who enjoy these things but do not care to take an active part in them.”

October 9, 1919

Just a few months later, Daniel Reeda former professional actor + producer — produced Town Theatre’s first production, Joint Owners in Spain, on Oct. 9, 1919 in the Columbia High School auditorium.

🎭 Act two:

December 18, 1924

In 1924, the theatre acquired a building at 1012 Sumter St. and hosted live performances on a makeshift stage until Dec. 18, 1924, when an actual theater was built on the site. 

🎭 Act three: 

October 9, 1974

On Oct. 9, 1974 Town Theatre was listed in the National Register of Historic Places exactly 55 years after its first performance in Columbia’s first high school. A true full circle moment for the local theatre. 

In 1993 the theatre underwent a $1.2 million renovation which significantly improved backstage facilities, added counterweight rigging systems that allowed smoother transitions or flying abilities for performers, and opened the lobby to its two-story height to showcase the famous front arched window.

Town Theatre’s famous arched window | Photo by COLAtoday team

🎭 Go on and take a bow:

Present day, the historic theater puts on between five and eight shows a year, hosting open auditions for every performance, and fosters theatre passions through youth programs.

Many of Town Theatre’s current + alumni performers have appeared on Broadway, television, and in major films. The historical marker names a few: 

“On this stage Carl Sandburg recited poetry; Academy Award winners Delbert Mann directed and Stanley Donen acted; Martha Graham danced; DuBose Heyward lectured; and famed artist Jasper Johns painted sets.”

If you’re interested in getting involved you can volunteer, donate, or audition for its upcoming show, Bright Star. Auditions will be held this Sunday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. You only need to attend one set of auditions, all roles are available, and everyone is invited to audition.