Charlestonians and visitors of the Holy City had to wait for almost three years for the reopening of the beloved, historic Dock Street Theatre that had to undergo an extensive renovation.
Charleston’s Dock Street Theatre was the first theater building designed solely for theatrical performances in America. Its rich history reflects the theatrical tradition and cultural history of Charleston and America from the 1700s through the millennium. The theater was destroyed in the great fire of 1740 and a hotel was built on its site in early 1800s.
During the1920s and 1930s, Charleston citizens became interested in preserving the city’s heritage, and the City of Charleston purchased the old hotel building and identified it as a project worthy of restoration. The old building was modeled after a composite of London’s 18th century theaters, designed with a “pit” for the common people, a “gallery” for women, and “boxes” at the balcony level for the city’s elite, but fitted with modern technical equipment. Local architect Alfred Simons re-created the theater with beautiful woodwork carved from native Cypress trees, or salvaged architectural items from Charleston’s antebellum mansions.
On November 26, 1937, the restored Dock Street Theatre opened with a reprise of the original Farqhuar play, performed by the theater’s new resident company, the Footlight Players. Members of the Charleston Symphony, who performed as the theater’s orchestra, wore 18th century costumes.
Yet another reopening ceremony takes place on Thursday, April 1, 2010, with an extraordinary gala evening featuring a performance featuring Natalie Dessay, one of the world’s premier opera singers. Ms. Dessay, a much admired interpreter of bel canto and lyric heroines, has performed at all of the major opera houses and opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2007 season performing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Violinist Geoff Nuttall will also perform with other prominent chamber artists. Singers from Flora, an Opera, will provide a sneak peek of the 2010 Spoleto opera, and actress Heather Gillespie, last seen at the Dock Street in the Spoleto production of Mamba’a Daughters, will perform DuBose Heyward’s charming prologue to The Recruiting Officer.
The evening will begin at 6:00pm with a champagne reception and a tour of the restored theater’s public spaces. After the performance, which begins at 7:00pm, the festivities will continue with cocktails in the courtyard and upstairs in the Wadsworth Room followed by an elegant black-tie dinner served in various areas of the theater. Tickets for the event are $250 per person, these tickets do not include post-performance cocktails or gala dinner. Black tie attire. To buy tickets, visit: http://www.spoletousa.org/dock-street-reopening-gala/
The present Dock Street Theatre is located at 135 Church Street in downtown Charleston.