Back in the day, a printing press used to rumble in the rear of the building at 210 N. George St.
Come this summer, it will be the site of pirouetting ballerinas in training. Meet the Old Opera House theater company’s newest acquisition — the onetime home of the Spirit of Jefferson.
The Old Opera House purchased the building from Jefferson Publishing late last year for $208,000. The Spirit moved to its new office at 114 N. Charles St., just before the new year.
Once renovations are completed later this year, the Old Opera House intends the use the 3,600-foot-space to expand its dance studio as well as its available space for storing equipment and props for its theatrical productions.
Manager and artistic director Steven Brewer said the Old Opera House intends to put about $50,000 into renovating the building.
He said the theater company had been looking to add more space for a long time. The old Spirit building coming available was like a dream come true for Opera House board members.
The Spirit listed the building last year and within days the Old Opera House bit, Brewer said.
“We would not have been able to get financial support from our patrons without having the building in hand,” Brewer said. “It’s hard to fund-raise for something you don’t have. This one came onto our lap so quickly.”
Brewer said the theater company hopes to begin offering dance studio classes as early as this summer. The Old Opera house offers classes in ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop.
He said plans also call for building a soundproof music room and another stage area for theatrical rehearsals. Brewer said, with another location to rehearse, the theater company could look into increasing the number of shows performed at the Old Opera House each year.
Currently, the Old Opera puts on six theatrical productions a year and also hosts a one-act play festival, a children’s show and a dance recital.
Rehabbing old buildings is old hat for the Old Opera House. The theater company, which was formed in 1973, came into existence following a significant rehabilitation of the Old Opera House building at the corner of George and Liberty streets. The building, built for $50,000 in 1910 as the New Opera House was the brainchild of Annie G. Packette. By 1948 it was curtains for the old place until being renovated as part of an effort by former Hilltop House owner Dixie Kilham and Robert and Diane Angle to being local theater back to Charles Town. The company staged its first production — My Fair Lady — in 1976.
For Brewer, 57, who grew up in upstate New York, managing a theater company is a dream job.
He said he got bit by the acting bug early in life and it’s stuck with him; he earned a degree in theater arts from Fredonia State University.
Brewer was running a small theater in South Carolina when he read about the opening at the Old Opera House for a manager in 2003.
Doubling as both the Old Opera’s manager and its artistic director, Brewer can sometimes be seen on stage, and will also don his director’s hat. He directed last year’s production of “Scrooge.”
“Being in theater is a natural high,” he said. “It’s one of those mediums with so many different elements.”
Construction crews have begun working on the new building and Brewer said can’t wait to begin using it.
“This studio will be just as active as the one next door,” he said.