Last October I had the pleasure of volunteering at Little Cities of Black Diamonds Day. This year the theme was on historic opera houses. Before this experience, I had very little understanding of how integral opera houses were to the life of small towns throughout America. But before the internet, tv, and radio the opera house was the mass media of the day. People would see theatrical performances, hear speeches by scholars and orators, and then hold the town dance in the same space. Many opera houses were converted into movie theaters, or into office buildings and now hide in plain sight. For example, the city hall building in Athens used to be the opera house! I had no idea. Today there is an effort to preserve some of the existing opera houses in the state. For example, Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville was restored and operating again as a theater until a fire last year. And in Shawnee, Ohio a dedicated group of local volunteers is working to restore the Tecumseh Theater, which is where I volunteered.
I got to spend time alone in the empty theater dusting off artifacts from the past. It was hard work, but I also really enjoyed having that time to examine all of the artifacts up close and just absorb the atmosphere of the old theater (and I mean absorb literally – I breathed in a lot of old dust and grime that day!)
There were of course many other great historical artifacts in the main exhibit. The old sign is so cool, and recently they’ve restored its functionality so now it lights up again!
The best part of the day was attending a revue show in the old theater space. The curtain may be tattered, but there’s still a lot of life left in the old place. Unfortunately all of my pictures of the show came out blurry.
I was so inspired by this experience that when it came time to develop a unit plan on the Industrial Revolution for my social studies methods class, I decided that the final assignment would be to write a skit based on the lives of coal miners in the Little Cities Region at the turn of the 20th century, and ideally perform it in the theater itself.
For more information about the Little Cities Region visit their online archive. For more information about the Tecumseh Theater, see here.