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What to See in C-Ville

Emma pays tribute to her favorite theater venues in Charlottesville, Virginia.

By New York City, Virginia

With its interior made to look like an old opera house, the Paramount hosts a wide variety of concerts, musical performances, events, and movie screenings.

Virginia is beautiful--it really is. I think I've come to appreciate it more and more as I've gotten older. Of course, my heart is in New York. But there's something about the South that's gentle and soothing. Charlottesville isn't one of those towns where everyone necessarily knows everyone else wherever they go; yet there's a sense of camaraderie amongst the general population. A simple 'bless you' after a sneeze or 'thank you' for holding open a door are courtesies that I miss about home.

And while there are no outlandish Broadway productions or numerous independent theater festivals year-round like in the city, Charlottesville does have some unbelievable entertainment opportunities. These treasures are what I would like to touch upon this week, in hopes of reminding those who do not necessary live in a major metropolitan area -- such as a high school choir teacher and TheaterMania subscriber whom I met in Waynesboro, Virginia just before coming to New York -- that amazing theater can be found just about anywhere if you look hard enough.

Let's start with the infamous Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall. The first stop is a place where I myself attended camp for many summers, Old Michie Theatre. Sure, it's a tight squeeze from the small, rectangular lobby into the 'stage' area, which consists of a carpeted floor and six rows of bleachers. But my fondest memories of my short-lived acting career were spent at this family-run company. From playing Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Miss Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, Michie Theatre will always be near and dear to my heart. And just a couple of blocks away is the more well-known Live Arts Theater. This modern architectural wonder is the venue for summer and year-long productions. The company has put on shows for younger audiences, such as 13 and Zombie Prom, as well as plays geared towards adults (The Producers, to name one). Cast members come from the community at large, UVA students, and local high schoolers. And, of course, the pit always sounds fabulous.

Also on the mall is the newly renovated Paramount Theater. It is absolutely gorgeous. With its interior made to look like an old opera house, the Paramount hosts a wide variety of concerts, musical performances, events, and movie screenings. For Charlottesville's 'First Night Virginia' on New Year's Eve my friend Andrea and I went to the Paramount to see a stand-up comedian perform. I have also seen The Barber of Seville and watched a viewing of Roman Holiday (I adore Audrey Hepburn) on the stage. The Paramount is truly a spectacular place. Next, Vinegar Hill. Located just off of the mall, this cozy movie theater shows mostly small, independent films. Last November, I saw Melancholia (starring Kirsten Dunst) here; I've also gone to see Becoming Jane and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Lines tend to be out the door to get into this theater, so I recommend getting there early! And finally, the Jefferson Theater--directly on the mall. Country hoedowns, Groovetrain, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa: it's all at The Jefferson. The top level of this theater is a bar while the bottom level has a stage and a huge dance floor. I have over 200 Facebook friends alone who 'like' their page to follow their latest performance series.

I can't write a blog about Charlottesville theater without mentioning the former Ash Lawn Opera at its first location near Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Their plays are now held at the Paramount, but I remember so vividly taking trips with my parents and siblings out into the country to watch shows such as Annie being performed in the evening under the stars. Summer nights in the mountains, laughing and crying along with the show, made Ash Lawn-Highland a town favorite.

And last but certainly not least, the University of Virginia boasts numerous theater, music, and dance opportunities. The Drama Department is great; their production of My Fair Lady last June was my personal favorite. I also loved Little Shop of Horrors a few years ago. During the academic year, the First Year Players put on The Music Man in the fall and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in the spring. To my delight, the theater was packed with college students, faculty, parents, and community members. The John Paul Jones Arena hosts a traveling Broadway Series that my family buys season tickets to. And there's always a Wind Ensemble, Dance Company, or University Singers concert at the beautiful Old Cabell Hall right on the Lawn.

So next time you see an ad for Godspell in NYC, don't automatically hop on a plane to JFK. Explore theater at home. Or you can book a flight to Charlottesville--the choice is yours!


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