The performance was being recorded for a PBS show called Song of the Mountains. We were coached to make noise--applause, hoot, and whistle shrilly--during the breaks. We were part of the show! Certainly we'll watch the broadcast sometime next year to see if we made the cut.
Unexpectedly, the theater itself was the real star.
It was built in 1929 as a moving picture "palace". It is a rare surviving example of Mayan-inspired art deco theaters, designed by the Novelty Scenic Studios in New York City. The building is highly decorated with "Mayan designs figures of gods, animals, mythological creatures ... found on the walls, columns, pilasters, brims and ceiling." My photos don't do justice to the original design or the restoration.
When it was built Americans were just "discovering" the rich Mayan art of Central America and celebrating it in their imitations of glyphs and pyramids.
Now, it seems very odd that a rural mountain town would have such an elaborate and culturally-distant tribute. It is to the town's credit that after years of disuse and decay they restored the building and applied to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Interjected into the Mayan theme, are six historical paintings: Columbus arriving in the New World, the American Revolution, the Civil War (featuring Robert E. Lee) , Daniel Boone, Smyth County's cattle industry, and the Industrial Age. They are a beautiful set, although incongruous with the rest of the auditorium.
|rise of industry in Smyth County|
The theater stays busy with local productions of plays, musicals, and a variety of local, and nationally known, musicians. The night we went, the 600 plus seats were filled with folks from all over the East coast. Here's a link to their performance schedule if you want to enjoy it for yourself.
If you're within driving distance, I urge you to build a trip around a performance there, a visit to the Heartwood Artisan Center in Abington, and one of the local wineries.
I hope you'll make a comment if you've visited another place that would fit on the itinerary, because I intend to go again.