This week I did a story for WCVE public radio, an NPR-member station based in Richmond, about the newly renovated Colonial Theatre here in South Hill. (I’m WCVE’s Southside Virginia news correspondent). I was fortunate that Mayor Horne gave me a tour of the project last Thursday, so a preview could air on the morning that the South Hill Chamber of Commerce would get its official tour of the beautiful new/old facility.
The radio story focuses on the nuts and bolts of the restoration — how the Vaudeville-era building was painstakingly restored to meet guidelines by federal and state historic registers. But under the story is the mayor’s personal commitment to the project. His vocabulary is flush with theatre words (“green room,” “proscenium”), and he knows every light fixture and every richly painted detail on the intricate tin, wood, and plaster mouldings. I asked him if he had been “a theatre person” before undertaking the project, and he said he had not been, but he surely knows his way around now.
He’s even joined a historical theatre association, and in addition to the Colonial Theatre hosting live performances of plays and concerts, he looks forward to the theatre showing films like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca in the old theatre that first showed them as new releases in the 1930s and 40s.
There is so much history that wouldn’t fit into my story, like naming the stars that appeared on stage there — Joan Crawford, Roy Rogers, Trigger himself. There is the balcony that, during the segregation era, was set aside for African Americans. “Horrible,” said the mayor, “but part of history.” He makes a point of noting that, ironically, today many people might consider the balcony seats the most desirable seats in the stunning 400-seat auditorium.
There’s more to the Colonial than just the theatre. There are two new art galleries, a welcome center, offices, and a lush ballroom for receptions, banquets, and meetings. South Hill has not had such a facility, nor the opportunity it presents for programming, since this very theatre was operating decades ago. I hope you can overlook the fact that I had a cold when I produced this story, so you can hear more about the Colonial Theatre in my radio story for WCVE.