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App Theatre goes over the rainbow for 85th birthday

Appalachian+State+University+Theatre+Professor+Keith+Martin%2C+center%2C+welcomes+guests+to+the+Appalachian+Theatre+of+the+High+Country+on+King+Street%2C+Boone%2C+NC%2C+dressed+as+the+Theatre%E2%80%99s+popcorn+mascot.+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+14%2C+2023.+Martin+splits+time+between+teaching+courses+at+the+university+and+serving+as+board+chair+for+the+Theatre.
Pruett Norris
Appalachian State University Theatre Professor Keith Martin, center, welcomes guests to the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country on King Street, Boone, NC, dressed as the Theatre’s popcorn mascot. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Martin splits time between teaching courses at the university and serving as board chair for the Theatre.

The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country turned 85 this week, but it’s hardly slowing down in its old age.

App Theatre, as the building is affectionately nicknamed, is located right next to Town Hall on King Street. A staple of Boone culture and community, the venue has housed concerts, plays, films and a kaleidoscope of other events over the years under its iconic green marquee. 

Suzanne Livesay, executive director of the Appalachian Theatre, said the variety of attractions also attracts a variety of people. 

“Every other person who walks in here has a story,” Livesay said. “Coming to the dollar theater when they were in college at App State, or they held hands for the first time in the balcony with their boyfriend. It feels like literally, and I’m not exaggerating, every person who walks in here has one of those stories.”

One of those stories belongs to Fran Greenfield and Dan Greenfield. The Greenfields are a married couple who have volunteered their time as ushers at App Theatre since 2019, sometimes as often as two or three times a week. The couple originally met at a community theater, and their love of the arts is part of what attracted them to App Theatre. 

“We’re theater people,” Fran Greenfield said. “We get to see people we know in town and we get to meet new people.”

The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country ushers, Dan Greenfield (left) and Fran Greenfield (right) smile at guests entering the Theatre. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Fran Greenfield turns 86 on Nov. 15, making her almost exactly a year older than App Theatre. (Pruett Norris)

“And see some good movies,” her husband added.

One of those good movies is “The Wizard of Oz,” which App Theatre decided to show at the party as their main attraction. Ushers were dressed as their favorite Oz characters and encouraged guests to take their own pictures on the Yellow Brick Road with an Emerald City photo backdrop. While 1939’s “Oz” was released in the year after App Theatre opened, the film holds a special place in its history.

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ is the one of the films that was shown here the most after the theater opened, and that was kind of the heart of our idea and thinking,” said Krystal Carter, an App Theatre employee dressed as a walking App Theatre ticket.

Carter, who helped plan the event and designed its promotional graphic, had an additional theory for why “Oz” was the right choice for the evening.

“Everyone tells me that they think of the Theatre as the Emerald City when they pass by and see the big green facade,” Carter said.

After 85 years, App Theatre wanted to honor its history. Tickets for the birthday party were wound back to 1938 prices, 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for kids.

Elsewhere during the festivities, tables were set up with a memory board and a history scavenger hunt, where guests could search for the modern locations of parts of the Theatre highlighted in old photographs. The event was especially exciting in light of recent history, too.

Guests at the Appalachian Theatre post their memories onto the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country memory board. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. Guests of all ages left their favorite anecdotes up on the board. (Pruett Norris)

Livesay said before its current owners purchased App Theatre from the Town of Boone in 2013, the building was completely gutted, with plans to turn it into a nightclub. After it was reacquired, the new owners turned to the community for ideas on what to do next. In a summit with community leaders, like the late Doc Watson, the committee rallied behind the idea of getting App Theatre back on its feet. 

“There was so much fervor behind it. $10 million later, we reopened in October 2019, roughly five months before COVID,” Livesay said.

The Theatre closed again, but had a soft reopening in September 2021 before programming began in earnest in 2022. This year, the 85th anniversary isn’t the only reason to celebrate at App Theatre. 

“We just had our first official fiscal year. Successful fiscal year, too,” Livesay added.

The success of the birthday party wasn’t measured in dollars, however. The beaming faces of ushers and staff greeting excited kids and parents spoke for themselves. 

“We want this to be the community’s theater, whether that’s the App State community, or the locals or even the visitors that come up so frequently,” Livesay said. 

At the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, success in its next 85 years will be measured by the strength of that community.

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Pruett Norris
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
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