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Carolina Theatre prepares for its 90th anniversary

By: Jessica Clifford, intern reporter

In 1927, there were many firsts – the Harlem Globe Trotters started entertaining audiences, The Jazz Singer began the sound- movie era, but for Greensboro natives, 1927 was the year the Carolina Theatre opened its doors.

Now 90 years later, the vaudeville-style Carolina Theatre is still open for the Greensboro community to gather and watch classic films and shows. This year’s movie line-up is bigger and celebrates their long history for the entire season.

The celebration begins with the 90th Anniversary Decades of Film Series, kicking off on Sept. 12 with the 1920s film, Nosferatu. Then, with only a break for the holiday season in December, each consecutive month will host one classic film from every decade until the end of the season.

Meagan Kopp, the director of marketing at Carolina Theatre, said a handful of movies were specially selected by the theater’s staff and then created into a social media poll for the public. Though everyone could chime in with other suggestions, most of the community liked the selection they were given.

The theater wanted to embrace their history to “make it fun and celebrate the entire season,” said Kopp, who thought the result of the movie selection process was a “moment of kismet.” Such classics being shown include Citizen Kane, Singin’ in the Rain, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Pulp Fiction.

However, Carolina Theatre’s history reveals that its presence in the city of Greensboro has been tested. In the 1960s, after the mental shift from a diverse downtown featuring shopping and theaters, Greensboro was having a “suburban boom,” rendering the Carolina Theatre as second class. The United Arts Council came together to raise $550,000 to save the building from its potential destiny – a parking lot.

The council bought out the theater for a meager $360,000. Then in 1977, Carolina Theatre reopened after it was refurbished and built into a 1,200-seat auditorium for the dual purpose of showcasing performing arts and cinematic productions. However, that was not the end of the theater’s misfortunes.

On July 1, 1981, the theater caught on fire and closed for a year. Once again, the United Arts Council came to the rescue, raising $5 million during a successful campaign, leading to large renovations that made the theatre look as it does today.

“[The theater] is a piece of living history,” Kopp said. Describing the first time someone walks into the theater she added, “[It is a] special feeling to walk in to see the chandelier. It’s a magical feeling.”

In remembrance of the Carolina Theatre’s history, it seems opportune to highlight moments of cinema’s past, which is exactly what the theatre will accomplish with their Silent Movie Series. This series begins Sept. 19, with Wings. In accompaniment with the films will be award-winning organist, Ron Carter, who is experienced in playing to the plots of many silent films. This experience should be just like a real 1920s movie theater, Kopp said.

The films are not the only thing to be excited about. As a treat throughout this season, selected movies will be part of the Wrangler Series, where three lucky movie-goers will win Wrangler jeans. In addition to this, on Oct. 28 The Spirit of the Carolina: Celebrating 90 Years, organized by long-time employee J.P. Swisher, will feature a variety show including hundreds of live performers.

GHM Archives
Catlett, 2002, p. 112.

“[The show] is an imagined history of the 90 years,” Kopp said. “It highlights the community theater and the downtime art culture.”

However, what is most exciting about this season, as it always is for Kopp, is the holiday movie line-up.

“In addition to our regular titles, we’ve added some “new” classic options to the roster (like The Shop Around the Corner and Christmas in Connecticut) and some tongue-in-cheek holiday titles as well (Die Hard, Bad Santa, etc.),” Kopp said. With this newer movie selection, also comes a new venue. The theater’s small, third-floor space – known as The Crown – will feature additional movie screenings.

As always, the holiday season will begin with a free community movie on Dec. 2, where everyone is welcome to watch a child-friendly movie with complimentary drinks and popcorn. After the movie, children can meet Santa and his elves. Most things do not stay the same, but the Carolina Theatre is something that has retained much of its history.

“If it was built two years later it wouldn’t be the same,” Kopp said. “A piece of information to remember when taking a seat in the auditorium. Remembering the Carolina’s past, and realizing nothing else can compare is what makes this event important.”

The 90th celebration of the Carolina Theatre is not going to be something anyone will want to miss, with its enticing schedule of events and as Kopp puts it, “a fun, diverse line-up,” there will be something for everyone.

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