Getting to know you: The Majestic Theater
A glimpse into the grandest small town theater in America
In Gettysburg, a small town so interwoven with the American story, there are plenty of sites to see—from Little Round Top to Devil’s Den and the Eternal Light Peace Memorial to Pennsylvania Hall.
But at the heart of any cherished community, particularly one so beloved by students, locals, and tourists alike, you’ll also find a strong cultural center—in this case, Gettysburg College’s Majestic Theater.
“Gettysburg is home to the grandest small town theater in America,” said Jeffrey Gabel, founding executive director of the Majestic. He emphasized the theater’s diverse series of professional touring artists, daily films, its contributions to the local economy, and the Majestic’s rich history.
Nearly 90 years ago, the Majestic opened its doors, welcoming audiences to the largest vaudeville and silent movie theater in south-central Pennsylvania.
Originally constructed as an annex to the Gettysburg Hotel, the theater was built by then-hotel manager Henry Scharf ’25, a long-time friend of Dr. F. William Sunderman ’19.
Coincidentally, Sunderman jumpstarted an annual lecture on current affairs in Scharf’s honor in 1977 and later bequeathed the College $14 million to establish the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, which now hosts performances beneath the Majestic’s breathtaking decorative pressed tin ceiling each academic year.
The Majestic first stepped onto the world stage in the 1950s when President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower regularly attended movies, often in the company of world leaders. The theater’s gymnasium (now the cinema wing) was even used by the White House press corps for news conferences whenever Eisenhower was in residence at his Gettysburg farm.
The theater has hosted several movie premiers, including the North American premiere of Satyricon in 1970, the world premiere of the Civil War epic Gettysburg in 1993, as well as two films this past year—Copperhead and 1000 To 1: The Cory Weissman Story.
But it was a bold $16.5 million renovation project—completed on the theater’s 80th anniversary in 2005—that allowed the Majestic to preserve its celebrated past and ultimately be named on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now equipped with modernized backstage production facilities, up to code life-safety systems, and improved patron amenities, the Majestic attracts top performers and acts from around the world, while continuing to support our next generation of stars located right around the corner—the students of Gettysburg College’s theatre arts program and Conservatory.
“Our students are treated as professional performers. They get to rehearse and perform in a state-of-the-art facility and have access to world-class performances and receive discounts,” Gabel said. “All of our students are extremely well taken care of by our staff, so they can simply focus on their music or acting.”
In addition to serving as a forum for budding young artists, the Majestic also provides the opportunity for Gettysburgians to receive valuable arts management internship experience.
“The Majestic has a perfect mix of old-school charm and modern sharpness, and when I met the staff, I knew this could be another home away from home for me on campus,” Brooks said. “The whole group is so supportive of each other and of the theater—you can feel the dedication. We are a fantastic team.”
In his role, Brooks, an 1832 Founders Scholarship recipient who also works as a program coordinator for the Center for Public Service, helping to run its El Centro tutoring program, assists in getting the word out about Majestic performances—drawing audience members from both campus and the surrounding community.
“Campuses all too often become isolated bubbles. The students never really get to know the local residents, and the local residents never really get to know the students. But at a Majestic event, we all get to see each other—we share the same interests, love the same bands, and see the same movies,” Brooks said. “You meet people at the Majestic that you just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, and everyone benefits from it. To me, our theater is a sign that we’re more than a military [destination]—we have a community and family on every road.”
Interested in catching a Majestic show? Gabel is certain you’ll treasure the experience.
“Live performances are so enlightening and gratifying. They can expose us to issues and make us think as a society; they’re truly life-changing. Plus, they make great date nights.” For more information about performances, visit www.gettysburgmajestic.org.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.
Posted: Thu, 12 Jun 2014
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