The idea of “theatre” dates back to ancient Greece in the 6th century B.C. Since that time, nearly every culture, society and ethnic group has used theatrical performance as a means of expressing thoughts, conveying social or political messages, telling stories and portraying history. Today, these performances include dance, music, drama, film and even stand-up comedy. And while a talented performer doesn’t need a grand stage to convey his talent – let’s be honest, the right venue can make all the difference. From ambience to acoustics, a theatre adds a special dynamic to a performance, elevating it or stifling it, depending on the space. Whether its a night at the movies or a Broadway classic, you won’t want to miss these 12 theatres in Virginia. Each offers a special history, flair and architectural uniqueness that takes performance to a new level.
1. American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse
If you go to Staunton for no other reason, the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center is worth the trip. As the world’s only exact replica of the original Blackfriars Monastery Theater, the 16th century indoor theater designed and built with input from William Shakespeare himself, this playhouse is a journey back in time. Everything about the theater, from lighting to staging, has been precisely designed to mirror productions in Shakespeare’s time. Featuring world-class acting, staging and production, Blackfriars Playhouse is a true Virginia gem. Visit www.americanshakespearecenter.com to find out about upcoming performances.
2. The Barter Theatre, Abingdon
Since it opened its doors in 1933, The Barter Theatre has been an ongoing source of incredible stage talent, making it one of the longest-running professional theatres in the country and one of the only year-round professional resident repertory theatres left. Robert Porterfield founded the theatre during the Great Depression allowing anyone who couldn’t pay the 40-cent admission price to barter with vegetables, dairy and livestock – hence the name “Barter Theatre.” Many famous actors have come through the Barter, including Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Larry Linville, Wayne Knight and many others. Stage productions can be seen year-round at the Main Stage or in the Barter II, a smaller theatre just across from the main building. Visit www.bartertheatre.com to see a complete show schedule.
3. Lincoln Theater, Marion
An art deco “Mayan Revival” style performing arts center may not be what you expect from quaint town of Marion in Smyth County. But The Lincoln Theatre in the heart of historic Marion has been a community treasure since 1929. The theatre, which is only one of 3 remaining Mayan Revival buildings in the U.S., features décor modeled after an ancient Mayan temple including 6 large murals depicting national and local history. Although it closed briefly in the late 1970s, renovations in the 90s brought it back and The Lincoln re-opened in 2004 as community performing arts venue. Today, The Lincoln hosts an eclectic array of stage and music performances, including the nationally syndicated bluegrass show, “Song of the Mountains.” Marion may be off-the-beaten path, but this gem is definitely worth the trip. Visit www.thelincoln.org for upcoming shows.
4. The Altria Theater, Richmond
Known by several names, including "The Mosque" and "The Landmark Theater," the Altria Theater was built in 1926 as the ACCA Temple Shrine by Richmond's local Shriners fraternal branch. Originally, the "temple" was intended to be the penultimate entertainment facility in Richmond, one that would outshine all other Shriners' facilities According to the theater's website it was "...among the ten greatest [theaters] in the United States...and will be operated as ‘Richmond’s Own Theater.’" Source: Opening Night Program, October 28, 1927." Purchased by the city in 1940, the theater was restored to its original glory in 1995. Today, The Altria is an icon in downtown Richmond, featuring theatrical and musical performances by some of the nation's top entertainers. With theater seating for 3,565, The Altria also offers a ballroom for large-scale galas. To see more about upcoming performances at The Altria, visit www.altriatheater.com.
5. The Paramount, Charlottesville
Since its opening night in 1931, The Paramount has been a landmark on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. As symbol of the Golden Age of Cinema, The Paramount made going to the movies a magical experience. Featuring a Greek Revival -style façade, The Paramount’s interior offered neoclassical grandeur with painted tapestries, plaster moldings and brass chandeliers. Sadly, The Paramount closed its doors in 1974, however, thanks to the efforts of the non-profit group, Paramount Theater, Inc. and grants from the City of Charlottesville, the building was purchased in 1992 and finally re-opened in 2004 as a performing arts center. Today, The Paramount has been restored to its original splendor and features stage performances of every kind - from music, to theater, to opera. Check showtimes and listings at www.theparamount.net.
6. Chrysler Hall, Norfolk
Built in 1972, Chrysler Hall is one of Virginia's finest performing arts venues and is home to the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Ballet, Norfolk Forum and the Virginia Arts Festival. With its luxurious interior and state-of-the-art sound systems and staging, the theatre seats 2,500 and serves as the primary destination for arts and culture in Norfolk. Owned and operated by the City of Norfolk, Chrysler Hall also features Broadways plays and musicals, concerts, comedians and children's performances. To find out what shows are coming up at the Chrysler, visit www.chryslerhall.org.
7. Swift Creek Mill Theatre, Chesterfield
Swift Creek Mill was built in 1663 as a grist mill and is considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, mills remaining in America. After completely closing down in 1956, the building was purchased in 1965 by 3 local families who refurbished it into the area's premiere dinner theatre. After being reorganized as a non-profit, in 2001, Swift Creek Mill continues to provide local patrons with world-class drama, comedy, musical theatre and children’s theatre, featuring the finest local talent. In addition, the theatre provides educational programs for children and instructional camps. With five to six annual main stage productions, as well as weekly performances, the theatre provides an ongoing source of talent, art and education for Central Virginia. To find out the latest showtimes, visit www.swiftcreekmill.com.
8. State Theatre, Culpeper
Originally called the Pitts Theater, State Theatre was built as a vaudeville movie house in 1938 and for 55 years, remained the area's premier movie theatre. When the doors closed in the 1990s, the building sat vacant and came close to demolition. Fortunately, the State Theatre Foundation was created and the building was preserved and renovated. In 2008, the theare was named to both the State and National Register of Hisoric Places, and in 2013, it proudly reopened its doors. Today, the State Theatre features 560-seats with modern sound, staging and amenities, while maintaining important historic elements like the neon marquee and interior detailing. Featuring music, film, dance, drama, and children’s programming, State Theatre is once again a premiere destination for arts, entertainment and culture. Check out upcoming shows at www.culpepertheatre.org.
9. The Byrd Theatre, Richmond
For nearly 90 years, the Byrd Theatre has been entertaining Richmond movie-goers with elegance and style. The theater was built as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces in 1928 and since, has earned both State and National Landmark status. The palatial building features marbled walls, velvet curtains, elaborate paintings, gold leaf arches and an 18-foot, 2.5 ton Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier in the auditorium. With all features priced at $1.99, you can keep your fancy IMAX and 3-D theaters. I’ll take the Byrd any day. The Byrd is open 365 days a year, but shows change regularly, so check www.byrdtheatre.com for showtimes and listings.
10. Buchanan Theatre, Buchanan
The Buchanan Theatre opened as the Star Theatre in 1919 after Elmer Shank purchased the A.E. McCurdy's Open Air Theatre and built the current building with lumber that his family cut themselves. After passing through several generations of owners, the Buchanan Theatre, as it was eventually named, operated continuously until 1985. The theatre sat empty until 2002 when Dale and Gloria Carter purchased the building, provided renovations and helped form a non-profit called Standing Room Only to operate the space. Finally, on November 1, 2002, the doors reopened. Today, the Buchanan Theatre provides a venue for movies, live musical performances and local business meetings. Now recognized as Botetourt County's oldest standing theatre, the Buchanan is on the National Register of Historic Places. Find out more about the Buchanan Theatre at www.buchanantheatre.com.
11. The Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria
What began as a small play-reading group in 1934 is now the oldest award-winning theater in the Metro-D.C. area. The Little Theatre of Alexandria, known as LTA, first held production at Gadsby's Tavern where the founding fathers once met. Long a favorite of politicians and presidents, the theatre's archives claim that first lady Lady Bird Johnson once even played the part of a serving wench in one of the more participatory productions. Today, the LTA has a permanent home on the corner of Wolfe and St. Asaph Streets and continues to serve as a first-class professional community theater, delivering top-rated performances for any audience, as well as competitions and summer theatre camps. Learn more about upcoming shows at www.thelittletheatre.com.
12. Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theater, Wytheville
Located in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia, the Wohlfahrt is a truly unexpected gem. Named for Johann Wilheim Ludwig Wohlfahrt, a 1750s German immigrant whose ancestors settled in Wytheville, this German-themed dinner theater features musicals of all varieties, for all audiences. The luxurious lounge-style seating and four-course meals provide a unique setting for world-class stage performances. The Wohlfahrt also offers fireside dining at the Matterhorn Restaurant and Lounge, along with café-style dining in an exquisite outdoor Bier Garten. Check out the latest performance listings at www.wohlfahrthaus.com.
Of course we have not included every theatre in Virginia on this list – so if there’s a special theatre that you know of, we would love to hear about about it. Let us know you’re favorite performing arts venues in the comments below!