Once upon a Time at the Opera House cover
Once upon a Time at the Opera House
Drama at Three Historic Michigan Theaters, 1882-1928
The importance of opera houses to the cultural and community life in nonmetropolitan areas of the country from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the advent of motion pictures in the 1920s has seldom been documented. As both the civic and arts center for the community, the local opera house was a venue for community meetings, political rallies, concerts, lectures, and theatrical entertainment. The stories the reader will encounter here—related with a healthy dose of humor—are based on historical facts, anecdotes, urban legends, and tall tales associated with three of the more than one hundred opera houses that existed in Michigan during this period. As there are similar stories about such structures throughout Michigan as well as in other Midwestern and Western states, this could be considered a storybook about the golden age of opera houses in many of America’s rural regions. Unfortunately, many of Michigan’s wonderful old jewel boxes have been razed or burned down. Whereas almost every town in the state once had a facility referred to as an opera house, few remain and, of those that do, few are open for business. The opera houses in Coldwater, Calumet, and Manistee are still in operation, however, and are still serving their communities as they have for over a hundred years. 
Subjects: Architecture | Theatre | History
Publication Date: December 1st, 2018
250 pages| 11 in x 8.5 in
James Berton Harris is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Theatre at University of Illinois at Urbana– Champaign. He has been active in both academic and professional theatre for more than forty-five years.  

Early Praise

“By vividly recounting the lives of three theatres, Harris creates a fascinating account of one of the most important eras of the American theatre. Written with wit and wonderful detail, this volume deserves to be in the library of every theatre lover.”
Bruce R. Halverson, Theatre Historian and President Emeritus, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities
“American theater has never meant only New York and Broadway. James Berton Harris reminds us in his inimitably warm and wry way that Americans have always loved stories and spectacle—especially if in their own backyard. This lively book recounts and celebrates the community opera house as the nexus of both cultural change and theatrical permanence within Michigan’s economic and civic life. It is both illuminating and satisfyingly nostalgic!”
Kathleen F. Conlin, Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater and Theater Department Chair, Wesleyan University, Connecticut

“James Berton Harris’s breezy narrative style and wide-ranging research make Once Upon a Time at the Opera House feel like a Michigan road trip with your most fascinating friend. An informative and captivating look at a mostly forgotten turning point in the nation’s cultural blossoming, this history of the opera houses is told through the compelling stories of the individuals who championed the opera houses in the developing cities, the managers and producers who sent the traveling players across the country, and the actors and dramatists who brought culture and entertainment to village stages night after night. This book is a celebration of Michigan’s opera houses and the indelible cultural mark these theaters made on their communities.”
Vincent J. Cardinal, Arthur and Martha Hearron Endowed Professor of Musical Theatre and Chair of the Department of Musical Theatre, University of Michigan


Book Award2019 State History Award, Historical Society of Michigan
$54.95 USD
ISBN: 9781611863017

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