Amidst the empty warehouses of downtown Durham, the Carolina Theatre rises like a phoenix. Recently renovated, the Carolina Theatre is now a plush, vibrant center for film and dramatic productions.
The theater has been in operation since 1926, and its function has changed and expanded during the last 49 years. The Carolina Theatre began as an auditorium used for pageants and ceremonies of Durham organizations and schools. A year later, because it was unable to attract enough events to keep up with its rent payments, it became a movie theater. For the next 60 years, the theater brought films to the Durham community.
In 1987, as part of a city project to revive downtown Durham, the Carolina Theatre underwent renovations, along with other establishments such as the Durham Arts Council. The film auditoriums of the theater reopened on New Year's Eve 1993, emerging as a bright modern complex while retaining a classic and timeless feel. In 1994, the stage portion of the theater had its grand opening.
The movie listings of the Carolina Theatre rarely include the blockbuster hits found at the local Carmike and Willowdale theaters. As film manager Brian Fox said, the theater instead shows the most interesting and diverse films possible. Ranging from classics to foreign films to documentaries and even works of beginning film-makers, the Carolina Theatre has no prescribed limit to what it will present.
"We will show virtually anything," Fox said. Recent showings include "Red," "Jam-n, Jam-n" and "Pulp Fiction," exemplifying the variety and range of the theater's selections. "We try to keep the audience as wide as possible," said stage coordinator Stephen Barefoot. University students and faculty are certainly visible among the theater's patrons.
Although many students do not know much about the theater, those who have visited are quite enthusiastic about what it has to offer. "The alternative movies, student discount and quality of the theater combined to make me want to go back," said Trinity junior Jessica Ronco.
In conjunction with the screening of movies, the Carolina Theatre has a video library that opened with the renovated structure. With 2,500 members, the video store rents selections similar to the variety displayed in the movie theater. The library "features the best selection of foreign and independent films in the Triangle area," said store employee Frank Tucciarone.
In addition to the film portion of the complex, the newly opened stage provides a place for the performance of live shows. Barefoot said that the theater bookings are as assorted as the movies. The playhouse brings both stage classics and modern plays, as well as performing groups. Recently featured was "The Bobs," a popular a cappella group. A London touring group put on a production of "Forever Plaid."
Furthermore, the stage offers special series that incorporate several different productions linked by a common theme, such as the recent "Stress Reduction Series."
A number of people from the University are involved in the theater. The temporary acting director, Monte Moses, is a former University professor, and two University students are employed by the theater in various capacities.
A permanent director will replace Moses April 1. Barefoot said that the theater is waiting for the new director before making further plans for expanding and developing the playhouse.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.