The airplane, the automobile, and the radio made life seem more promising and limitless than ever; jazz was all the rage; and the population of the Susquehanna Valley was just the right audience for the novelty of motion pictures with synchronized sound. In fact, Williamsport enjoyed its first “talkie” on the Capitol Theatre’s opening night, October 22, 1928, with the premier of Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool. This would have been a bigger, better, more exciting experience than most Pennsylvania movie-goers could ever hope for: the Capitol’s projection booth was the finest in the state and the theater boasted a fantastical organ designed to provide percussion and orchestral sounds, and special effects such as whistles, songbirds, doorbells, and thunder crashes. Exciting as the movies were, patrons were also treated to stage shows along with movies. These “twin bills” featured legendary entertainers such as Gene Krupa, Xavier Cugat, Blackstone the Magician, and even the Three Stooges. Show after show, film reel after film reel – it seemed the fun could go on forever.
Six decades after the Capitol’s opening, just as all life seemed to be going out of Williamsport’s once vibrant downtown, new hope was brought to the grand old theater. In a flurry of excitement, the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Williamsport Lycoming Foundation (now named the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania) and the City of Williamsport announced that the Pennsylvania College of Technology would be acquiring the Capitol and that, together, they would convert it into a modern performing arts center. The real soul of the plan lay in the intention to refurbish and preserve the character of the theater and its heady synthesis of ornate Spanish, English, and Oriental décor.
The undertaking was ambitious – millions of dollars would be required to restore and preserve the theater. Everything needed to be touched or retouched, from the theater’s seats to the ornate plaster details. Master artists and artisans were brought in, and the painstaking work began. No detail was overlooked in this labor of love – even the new carpets were created to match remnants of the original! New seating was added, the stage was enlarged, sound and lighting effects were upgraded for modern technologies, and a new façade was added. Two years later, on a starlit evening in May 1993, the doors of the Capitol were once again open to the appreciative citizens of the Susquehanna Valley. That first glorious season the New York Pops kicked off the festivities, and were followed by an impressive lineup of big name acts including concerts by Emmanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Lee Greenwood, and Aretha Franklin. Eager theatergoers filled the seats and the walls reverberated with applause. The grand dame of Williamsport was once again strutting her stuff, but now as the Community Arts Center.
Our theater’s spirit is as effervescent as ever. Nearly one and a half million guests have enjoyed events at the Community Arts Center since that spectacular re-opening in 1993, and millions more are on the way.
The acts you love just keep coming – some are even beginning their tours here in Williamsport, using the stage ad the outstanding acoustics to do their “tech-in;” getting their show ready to tour, and doing everything from lighting and set design, to sound tests and rehearsals.
But entertaining audiences and playing host to great performers isn’t all we want to do. Williamsport has an impressive and diverse arts scene, and we’d like to reach into our very own neighborhoods for material as we continue to “put the community in the Community Arts Center.” Over the years our theater has turned into a home not only to touring productions, but also to many community-based organizations such as Uptown Music Collective, Williamsport Symphony Orchestra d Youth Orchestra, Collegetown Gallery, local dance recitals – well the variety leaves us breathless.
In addition to supporting local performers, the CAC has developed a strong culture of collaboration, partnering with over 250 local non-profits and other organizations by providing fundraising help, meeting space, technical support, and promotional considerations.
We want to give you a chance to be involved too! As we open our doors to more and more local performers, we hope that one day, you too can say, ” That was my kid… my neighbor… my parents… on stage, and they earned a standing ovation!”