September 1, 2012 7:19:35 PM
What if you had a diamond so big you could neither wear nor insure it? Or what if you had a mansion so massive you could not live in it? Or what if you possessed that fabled, precious white elephant? You might feel the frustration some Columbians feel about the Princess Theater.
Of course, Columbus doesn't own the Princess. Bart Lawrence does. For years the Kuykendall family owned it. I think they felt it was underutilized, as indeed it still is. What if Columbus did own it? What would we have?
Well, for one thing, we would have royalty among theaters. Columbus has the use of many stages, from the Rent Auditorium at Whitfield Hall and Cromwell Theater at Mississippi University for Women, to the small Omnova Theater at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, to the several stages at Columbus schools -- Franklin, Joe Cook, Lee Middle School, Heritage Academy, and I am sure others that I know not of. There is no dearth of performing venues.
But none of them can offer what the Princess can. When Ed Kuykendall Sr. built it in 1925, it was state-of-the-art and could rival most New York theaters. The grand old lady has an orchestra pit -- I think the only one in Columbus -- a proscenium stage with dressing rooms both back stage and under the stage, and plenty of space for elaborate flies. It is a crying shame all that is relatively unused.
Through the years various groups have tried to figure out how to remedy that situation. Now another group of citizens is looking at it again. Interested people are invited to contact Chris Chain or Barbara Yarborough.
As I see it, the dilemma has two "horns." We already have several places to perform, as named above, and we have not recently had enough performances to merit restoring the Princess. We would need something on the scale of the old Columbus Concert Series and the former Lyceum Series at the college, which brought in a fixed number of top-drawer performances each year that nearly filled the auditorium at Whitfield.
Television had not cut into attendance then; but, frankly, from the choices it offers us now, I cannot see how it could be the threat it once was, being mostly inferior to the live performances. Of course, Columbus was smaller then, theatrical performances were usually staged for only one evening, and "everybody" attended them. (I can recall one time when Doug and I returned from a business trip to Jackson just in time to catch a performance of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" at Franklin Academy. The only seats still available to us in the filled auditorium were on the back row.)
Now, for some reason, our audiences have dissipated. It is certainly not from a lack of talent. I do not know where the problem lies, probably in several areas. I do think we have more musical performances than in the past, but they are scattered. And all of us can see that we have a treasure that is not being fully used. I hope those wiser than I can figure it out.
Jackson has its lovely Thalia Mara Hall. Meridian has its Riley Center. We have an opportunity.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.
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