(Columbia). Columbia’s Town Theatre is the longest continuously operating community theater in America. The theater got its start in June 1919, when Daniel Reed, a former professional actor and producer stationed at Camp Jackson, joined forces with the Columbia Drama League, a group of prominent citizens interested in promoting live theater in the city. Together, they formed the Columbia Stage Society as a producing entity for Town Theatre, with Reed serving as its first director. The opening production, Joint Owners in Spain, was presented on October 9, 1919, in Columbia High School auditorium.
After presenting plays at venues all around the city (including an athletic field at the University of South Carolina), the Stage Society acquired an old residence at 1012 Sumter Street. Plays were performed there on a makeshift stage until December 18, 1924, when a production of The Torchbearers opened in an actual theater built on the site. Although it has undergone renovation and modernization, Town Theatre continues production in what is essentially the same building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Fed by talent from Fort Jackson and the University of South Carolina, as well as the larger community, Town Theatre flourished under the series of professional directors who succeeded Reed. Town Theatre alumni who have gone on to national success in the performing arts include Oscar winners Delbert Mann and Stanley Donen and twotime Emmy winner Fred Coe.
The theater usually produces between five and eight shows a year, ranging from original musicals to Shakespeare. Theater arts classes and productions for young people have always been an integral part of the organization. Because of its combination of a long production history and a focus on stimulating young people in the performing arts, Town Theatre has had a major impact on theatrical development both in Columbia and across the state.
Brown, Adger. “Columbia’s Town Theatre.” Sandlapper 1 (November 1968): 48–52.
Rogers, Aida. “This ‘Town’s’ Alive.” Sandlapper 9 (summer 1998): 53–55. “Town Theater Makes Bow as Columbia’s Playhouse.” Columbia State, December 16, 1920, p. 2.