Thalian Hall has played a significant role in promoting performing arts in Wilmington, North Carolina since 1858. The original main stage has been preserved and still in use today. The Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts Inc. (THCPA) gained management control of the facility in 1963. Each year over 250 full stage shows and nearly 500 performances occur on-site. In addition to shows by professional performers, the Adventure in Arts Series, Cinematique film Series and a host of community theater productions. Each year approximately 10,000 local children tour the center, view live performances and learn about North Carolina’s cultural heritage.
Construction on Thalian Hall began in 1855 and took three years to complete. The building served dually as a performing arts center and a city hall. The facility was designed by John Montague Trimble, a renowned nineteenth century architect. Trimble primarily designed opera houses and theaters. Thalian Hall is the sole remaining structure designed by Trimble in the country. At the time Thalian Hall has was built, the city of Wilmington was the incorporated city in the state of North Carolina. The opening of the theater in 1858 made the city an important stop for nationally ranked performers of the time period. When the theater wasn’t booked for a performance it was utilized for local meetings, church music recital, high school graduations and roller-skating events.
The doors of Thalian Hall were kept open even during the Civil War year. Financial woes in 1860 causes original management company to lease the hall to local entrepreneurs. Stage stars and famous musicians continued to appear on the Thalia Hall stage, promoted by local businessmen until 1936. During the years of 1867 to 1871 John T. Ford leased Thalia Hall, prompting increased interest by the performing arts community. Ford was the original owner of the famous Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. During the time Ford leased the building it was called the Thalia Opera House. Stars who graced the stage of Thalia Hall included Buffalo Bill Cody, Lillian Russell, Maurice Barrymore John Phillip Sousa, Sir Henry Lauder and Joseph Jefferson.
Thalia Hall got a facelift after the turn of the century. In 1909 electric stage lights were installed, replacing the gas lamps and candles which had adorned the halls and stage area. Side balconies were removed and an ornamental archway replaced. The performing arts center was renamed the Thalia Academy of Music. The facility was used primarily as a roadhouse until the early 1930’s.
Twentieth Century Changes
The era of traveling road shows and began to fade away during the late 1920’s. The renowned Ziegfeld Follies was the last such group to appear on the Thalia stage in 1928. The Wilmington Concert Association and live community productions were the life blood of the theater through the 1940’s. During the late 1930’s through the 1940’s talk of closing and tearing down the theater mobilized local residents to renovate the hall and keep patrons coming through the doors.
After a small auditorium fire in the early 1970’s, the Thalian Hall Commission was formed to renovate the stage and keep the facility open for the enjoyment of future generations. By 1975 both the interior and exterior of the historic structure were revitalized, and crowds once again found their way to Wilmington for live shows. The group changed its’ name to the Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts in 1983.
A major renovation and expansion of the facility kept the center in a state of flux until it reopened in 1990. The project was possible, in large part to the support of Wilmington residents passing a $1.7 million dollar tax levy. The group launched a capital campaign in 1986 which brought in an additional $2 million dollars from state grants and private donations. A two week grand re-opening festival of the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts included live shows by visiting performers and regional arts associations.
The Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts was once again well-received by both seasoned performers and the viewing public. Each year approximately 80,000 patrons attend shows at the facility. In addition to on-site performances, the THCPA participates in and supports the “Main Street Attractions” series in downtown Wilmington. The group pulls in internationally renowned performers for the off-site series. Through a combined effort with the Junior League, the THCPA offers educational art classes for New Hanover County school children and presents a youth-based live performance for first and second grade students each school year.
In 2003 the THCPA was hard at work once again renovating and improving the facility. The approved master refurbishing plan includes the building of an additional playhouse next to the existing facility modernization of on-site technology. A 2009-2010 project replaced and enhanced electrical and lighting fixtures around the center.
Live plays and musical productions occur at the Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts year around. Multiple programs occur simultaneously on the hall stages and in the cinema center. The ballroom was fully restored, and is still used as a meeting place for the Wilmington City Council and Planning Commission meetings. The elegant space can also be rented for weddings and meeting space. The annual “Change of the Coast Guard Command” ceremony has taken place inside the ballroom for decades.
Special events hosted by the THCPA and private events organized by community organizations offer cultural enjoyment year around .The “Taste of the Town” event benefits ongoing facility renovation and building projects. Restaurants in the downtown are of Wilmington ply their wares in this one-day extravaganza which include a tour and “meet and greet” at the performing arts center. The Guest Artist Galas are private concerts benefiting the maintenance of Thalian Hall. Past gala performers have included such notables as Golden Globe winner, Lind Lavin. The SS Thalia Fantasy Cruise is also an annual fundraising which includes a luau style buffet, live music, raffles and casino games aboard a cruise ship.