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Masterpiece Theaters

 Since before America was the United States, theaters have bloomed everywhere, from bustling port cities with the latest trends from Europe to sleepy summer retreat communities in the mountains.

Sadly for us today, the fact that theaters were lit with candles for centuries means that many of these storied playhouses burned down over the years. Others went on to host films rather than stage shows, and many of the most lavishly decorated became homes for touring Broadway shows.

But in a few enclaves around the country, historic theaters still hold resident companies that keep the historic spirit of their stages alive through regular repertory productions.


November Theatre, Virginia Repertory Theatre

Richmond, Virginia

The history of the November Theatre began long before it opened in 1911. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Richmond had a thriving theater community that entered a period of mourning in 1811 after the last in a string of local theater fires resulted in the deaths of 72 Richmonders, including the governor of Virginia.

Exactly 100 years later, the November Theatre opened its doors and unveiled a series of fire safety measures that were groundbreaking in their day, including electrical lighting and audience seating at street level to allow audiences to exit quickly without taking stairs. Modeled after New York City’s Empire Theatre, the November Theatre was also the first to bring a Broadway-style theater to Virginia.

During its more than 100-year history, the November Theatre has hosted vaudeville, film and some of the first integrated theater audiences in Virginia, but today it is known best for anchoring an arts district that has blossomed in a formerly dilapidated part of town.

“It’s a great example of how an arts institution spurs urban revitalization,” said Susan Davenport, the theater’s director of communications. “Now there are galleries, restaurants and lots of residential spaces filled with young people. It’s exciting to see an area that was so blighted now booming with a lot of energy.”


Historic Royal Theatre, Maples Repertory Theatre

Macon, Missouri

The Historic Royal Theatre has had such a long existence by American theater standards that it has had many names since it first opened in 1889 as the Jobson Opera House. After its opera days, it served as a vaudeville house and live theater venue before converting to a movie theater in 1959.

The relatively small size of the theater has helped keep it in use as a theater and has saved it from the wrecking ball or repurposing. With just over 300 seats split between a sloping orchestra and an arched balcony, every seat has a great view.

The theater was reconverted to a live performance space during the 1990s, but it was not until 2004 that the professional Maples Repertory Theatre launched to give the theater a permanent resident company. Each season includes six productions and two cabarets, and 2015 features beloved classics “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.