Later on, during the ’80s and ’90s, it may have been any one of a number of productions by the Augusta Players, the Augusta Ballet or the Augusta Opera that attracted you.
In recent years, in addition to dance and theatrical productions, it could have been a Southern Soul and Song concert presented by the Morris Museum of Art with artists such as Marty Stuart and Rhonda Vincent, or concerts featuring Robert Earl Keen, Delbert McClinton, Lizz Wright, Sharon Jones and the Dapp Kings or Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi.
It still serves as a movie theater, with ForbesFilm screening independent films such as the upcoming Poison Peach Film Festival. It brings classic films such as Gone with the Wind back to the big screen.
Whatever it was, it brought you to downtown Augusta’s historic Imperial Theatre.
It is evident to anyone who has attended an event at the Imperial that the aging grand dame of Broad Street needs some work. Perhaps that is an understatement.
There are moisture problems; aging infrastructure – i.e., electrical and HVAC mechanical systems; and cosmetic repairs and other improvements that are needed. Some of the work has begun, but the major projects are slated to occur over the next five years in the run-up to the Imperial Theatre’s 100th anniversary.
The board of the Imperial Community Theatre Inc., the 501(c)(3) with a mission “to preserve the historic integrity of the downtown theatre, while providing a quality venue for the Augusta area,” has embarked on a capital campaign to help preserve the theater for future generations. The board of directors has developed a plan involving fund-raising and a step-by-step approach to renovation and restoration.
The first steps in the process have already been accomplished, with the replacement of the orchestra-level seats, the installation of a wonderful new sound system and a state-of-the-art electronic marquee, which serves as a visually distinct landmark in downtown Augusta.
Recently, the theater enjoyed the generosity of the Knox Foundation, the Creel-Harison Foundation, the Community Foundation for the CSRA, the Fox Theatre Institute (a subsidiary of Atlanta’s “fabulous” Fox Theatre!) and the Greater Augusta Arts Council by way of a re-grant from Augusta-Richmond County.
Because of that generosity, the Imperial recently was able to not only replace but expand its inventory of stage lights; replace and upgrade its lighting console that controls all of the stage lighting and renovate the first of six dressing rooms; and begin renovation work on a portion of second floor space used for larger theatrical productions.
The next phase ties into the capital campaign, with an immediate goal of raising at least $250,000 to qualify for matching funds of $1 million in special, local-option sales tax funds to be provided by Augusta-Richmond County in 2013 and 2014. The Imperial’s capital campaign was undertaken to raise at least a portion of the necessary funds.
If you have already responded to the Imperial’s capital campaign request, you have our deepest appreciation. If you haven’t, we certainly hope you’ll consider doing so and help save the Imperial for future generations to enjoy.
This SPLOST portion of planned improvements involves replacing aging fire escapes; repainting exterior brickwork; upgrading electrical service; installing energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning in the front of the building; and replacing the original fire curtain, a remnant from what was the theatre’s original name, the Wells Theatre, in 1918.
Subsequent phases are intended to complete dressing room renovations; repair and repaint plaster work; replace mezzanine and balcony seats; expand and improve restrooms, upgrade air-conditioning and heating in the theatre proper; and install an elevator to increase and expand access to all areas of the theatre.
Total additional funding beyond the SPLOST VI funding is anticipated to be approximately $4 million. If you wish to contribute, call (706) 722-8341 and ask for information about how to help, or go to www.imperialtheatre.com and follow the donation links to pay by credit card.
Just as past generations of Augustans used to watch silent movies and vaudeville shows; or saw Charlie Chaplain sell war bonds in 1918; or witnessed famed ballerina Anna Pavlova dance in 1924; the Imperial continues to serve as a vital entertainment venue for metro Augusta. The Imperial has the distinct opportunity to serve as a venue for groups such as Storyland Theatre, the Augusta Players and DanceAugusta, as well as regional touring groups, that provide cultural outreach to schoolchildren, bringing ttheatrical, musical and dance productions to a classic theater setting.
Of the approximately 40,000 patrons who pass through the doors of the Imperial each year, up to 50 percent are schoolchildren attending daytime school shows. During a typical week of Storyland Theatre shows, such as the recent production of Cinderella in October, the school buses began lining up at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning shuttling in children from Richmond, Columbia, Burke, McDuffie, Glascock and Jefferson counties’ schools in Georgia, and from Aiken and Edgefield counties in South Carolina, for the first of three shows that morning that were repeated over the next three days. By the time Saturday afternoon’s matinee ended, 5,134 students and 1,006 adults had attended one of the 12 school shows, and 727 people attended the Saturday community performance – a total of 6,867, including 554 active-duty military and their dependents, who attended free.
The Imperial is an economic driver and a downtown entertainment destination. Americans for the Arts provides an “Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator” tool that indicates that the Imperial generates $250,000 in annual expenditures by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, in addition to $616,000 spent by their audiences.
One of the end results of this economic activity is job creation and retention. The AFA tool estimated that 7.2 full-time equivalent jobs result from the Imperial’s business activities, as well as 18.3 additional FTEs associated with nonprofit arts and culture audiences. State and local government revenue is estimated to be $8970 in sales tax revenue from various organizations and $31,000 from the audiences.
We look forward to seeing you this coming year at one of the many wonderful shows that will take place at the Imperial. In addition to rental income derived from user-groups, from time to time the Imperial itself takes the opportunity to present shows. On Feb. 11 the Imperial is pleased to present famed mentalist the Amazing Kreskin, and on March 17 popular singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor returns to the Imperial stage for what should prove to be a wonderful evening of music.
The Imperial also has been blessed to receive volunteer support in the form of ushers, ticket-takers and concession workers over the years. There are other opportunities for individuals and groups to further assist the Imperial through in-kind donations of labor – i.e., volunteering to assist with demolition and construction, or materials such as building materials, furnishings or office equipment and supplies. For more information, call the Imperial box office or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A wonderful way to keep up with the numerous activities at the Imperial is by signing up for weekly informational e-mails. Visit the website and you’ll find a section to register in the lower right-hand section of the homepage.
Thank you for your support, and thank you for continuing to believe in the Imperial.
(The writer is executive director of the Imperial Theatre.)