EDITORIAL: 20 Years - Going Strong

This perspective was written by Vic MacDonald, who was editor of The Newberry Observer during the renovation and re-opening of The Newberry Opera House.


They actually have opera in The Newberry Opera. For 20 years, though, the stately structure has hosted, and been the catalyst of, so much more.

For a community re-inventing itself after textiles died, it has been the life-saver. It used to be City Hall - city fathers and mothers renovated a bank to become the “new” city hall. It used to have a horse-drawn fire engines station beside it - city leaders turned that building into a conventions destination.

The Lettermen pack the house every time they come.

Travis Tritt keeps his acoustic roots alive every time he comes.

Local performers Doug and Bunny Williams have been especially faithful to NOH audiences. 

They’ve had old-time cowboy movies showing on the stage screen.

February 20th is the Opera House’s big day.

It was dedicated on Feb. 20, 1882. It was re-dedicated, after a beautiful restoration, on Feb. 20, 1998. Its re-dedication birthday party will be Feb. 20, 2018.

The cupcake cutting will be at 5 p.m., after a day filled with activities. For several Tuesday evenings after that, sounds of elementary school honor choruses, middle school and high school honor choruses, Newberry College Music Department performers, and local singers will fill the upstairs auditorium.

Tourism has become an industry in Newberry. Because of the Opera House, they now have convention space, a memorial park and an arts center. They just finished a chili cook-off, and upcoming events will include Family Movie Night, SC Clay Conference, and Irish/Spring Fling.

The NOH spring line-up ranges from The Oak Ridge Boys to The National Symphony of Cuba.

This has been The Newberry Opera House’s greatest success.

Founding Director Deb Smith knew that performers were looking for small venues where they could try material before taking it to Myrtle Beach. NOH was a perfect stopping off point, about halfway between Atlanta and the Grand Strand. There were enough local performers and college drama-music to fill in the gaps, and summer was kept open for “rest and rejuvenate” time. The Founding Fathers and Mothers of The Newberry Opera House were fortunate to spark the idea in a time of grant money for the arts - they partnered this performing arts venue with ambitious directors of choruses and bands at the local schools, and patterned NOH as a “teaching tool” - where else could your child have the opportunity to perform on such a grand stage?

To the detriment of all of us, school arts is seen as a luxury in this day of “testing all the time, testing at all costs” education. The arts fire a child’s mind, connect a child to the long history of free expression in the world, teach beats and counting and high level mathematics, and provide a framework for group teamwork. All without concessions and hazing.

Yes, some art is singular - Joan Baez stepping into the spotlight for “The Night They Dove Ol’ Dixie Down” - and spine-tingling. I remember the night the family of the late Harry Chapin filled the Opera House stage, and his dad’s voice resonated, strong and resolute keeping a tradition alive.

So much more in art and music is teamwork, and the ability to be “coachable.” This is what a performing arts venue like The Newberry Opera House stands for - alone, we can sing; together, we can shine.


(Info: Newberry Opera House, 1201 McKibben St., Newberry, SC 29108.)

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