Amateur theater has long been a mainstay at Thalian Hall, even though the kinds of
performances have altered. In 1869, the ladies of St. John’s Episcopal Church presented
an evening of Tableaux Vivant. These “living pictures” featured performers costumed
(sometimes scantily) and arranged to reproduce famous paintings or statuary.
While such amusements were popular, audiences still preferred plays. As early as
1868, the newspaper declared that “the legitimate drama surely has enough admirers in
Wilmington to support a first-class company here,” and in the same year, the Star carried
a proposal that the Thalian Association Community Theater be revived. It was, and
the group’s current incarnation continues to perform at the Hall, along with a number
of other companies who also call Thalian home, among them Opera House Theatre
From its beginning, Thalian has embraced talented local performers, including
Robert Howlette, a 19th-century Wilmingtonian who performed a tightrope act with an
amateur “Humpty-Dumpty troupe” (a variety show that included acrobats, music and
pantomimes.) He was so well received that he eventually left his job with the Star and
performed with several circuses billed as “The Slack-Wire King.”
Production values as well as types
of entertainment reinforce the notion
that, “everything old is new again.”
The modern era obviously offers tech-nical
As early as 1868, the newspaper
declared that “The legitimate
drama surely has enough
admirers in Wilmington to
support a first-class company
here,” and in the same year, the
Star carried a proposal that
advancements such as amplified
sound, special lighting effects and
sophisticated scenery, but audiences
have always appreciated spectacle. In
the 19th century, many theaters used
a device called a “thunder roll” or
“thunder run” to create the sound of
an approaching storm.
the Thalian Association
At Thalian, the thunder roll consists
of wooden troughs, suspended above
the ceiling near the front of the stage.
Cannonballs are dropped into and
rolled through the troughs to create
the rumble of thunder. While these
devices were once common in opera
houses, Thalian Hall is believed to
possess the only one still in existence in
the United States.
Nineteenth century performances
at Thalian also were known to feature
scenic effects that included a “brook
of real water,” a “prismatic fountain
with different colored jets,” and a
railroad explosion. An arctic play even
presented “glaciers and a snow storm.”
Technical advancements have been
made on both sides of Thalian’s stage.
Originally, the theater wasn’t especially comfortable. In the 1880s, a reporter noted that,
“while our Opera House is a pretty one, it is certainly not a comfortable one.” On that
night, the cold was apparently so bitter that the singer “shivered all over,” and she had to
hold her music on the piano, “as the wind was constantly blowing it over.”
Community Theater be revived.
Tony Rivenbark marked the celebration
of his 35th year at Thalian Hall in 2014
with this photo.
Tony Rivenbark (right) in Kiss Me Kate with Sam
Gardner at Kenan Auditorium, part of UNCW’s
SRO Summer Stock Theatre.
THALIAN HALL ARCHIVE COLLECTION THALIAN HALL ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Another change was the removal of sections of
the first balcony on either side of the auditorium
and the creation of decorative stenciling.