Is all the world a stage? It could be, in Columbia, where men, women, children and even marionettes and muppets dance, sing, laugh and cry on dozens of stages throughout the region. “Columbia is really a theater town,” says Chad Henderson, artistic director of the cutting-edge Trustus Theatre. “For a city this size, we have a lot of groups creating work and a lot of patrons supporting that work. For theater people, it’s a great place to live or visit.”
Columbia’s theater groups are also providing a remarkable scope of work. Known for comfy recliners instead of the usual auditorium seating, Trustus leans away from the usual with thought-provoking works that often arrive directly from Broadway and off Broadway. Town Theatre, which is the oldest continuously operating theater in the country, tends to focus on more classic works. Columbia’s Marionette Theater is one of just a handful in the county; Columbia Children’s Theatre is known not just for high-quality programming for the next generation of theater-goers but, once during each production, a hilarious adults-only night.
There’s more. Smaller theater companies like WOW Productions, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company and Workshop Theater have also found a supportive home in Columbia; during the school year, University of South Carolina students from the department of theatre and dance stage contemporary productions at Drayton Hall and Longstreet Theater, an in-the-round theater which was built in 1855. Traveling shows like Broadway in Columbia also make their way to the Capital City thanks to large venues like the Koger Center, the Township Auditorium and Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College. “It’s an exciting time in Columbia,” says Larry Hembree, who works with Columbia Children’s Theatre. “Everyone is raising the bar with original productions that are daring and sophisticated. We’re trusting our audience and they’re responding.”