Performing arts thrive in Robeson County - Carolina Country

A Night at the Theater

Performing arts thrive in Robeson County

By Gordon Byrd

A Night at the Theater

The Carolina Civic Center. Photo by Jody Johnson/Photorad Photography

When the sun goes down in Robeson County, the same stars are visible that lit the sky for millennia above crop fields, country homes and pine trees. Orion’s belt sparkles across from Cassiopeia’s reclining form. Our forebears would have seen this ancient theater playing in the night as they marched arm-in-arm to playhouses of an earthly sort. Although the world seems so dramatically changed since the first theater was erected in the quaint towns of Lumberton and Pembroke, the tradition of theater still lives on.

The outdoor amphitheater at the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center is alive still with the story of Lumbee legend Henry Berry Lowrie and his beloved Rhoda, while Broadway shows light the modern indoor stage of UNC Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center (GPAC). A third, older theater is also still thrilling audiences in Lumberton. The Carolina Civic Center Historic Theater (CCC) first opened shows in the inter-war period when Lumberton was a booming textile industry epicenter.

In 1928, the Great Gatsby’s decadence could be felt in the growing town of southeastern North Carolina.

In 1928, the Great Gatsby’s decadence could be felt in the growing town of southeastern North Carolina. What started as a small logging community became a cultural hub for the emerging Robeson County nightlife. The Carolina Civic Center, then a nascent silent film and vaudeville venue in the heart of Lumberton’s downtown, was an example of the explosion of popularity in the region.

CCC Theater Front

The Carolina Civic Center. Photo by Jody Johnson/Photorad Photography

Maintaining the same quality of architecture and performances, today the theater remains a staple of theatrical life in Lumberton and the surrounding towns. The exterior looks unchanged from its original Italian renaissance design, but the interior has been tastefully modernized to suit performances with acoustic and visual enhancements that set the space apart from its origins, while hinting back to a simpler, more splendid time of the theater night.

Acts such as Tex Ritter have graced its stage, and today the community is thrilled to continue filling seats to see both local favorites, like the annual Robeson Christmas show, and national acts, like the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra.

In the 1980s, the CCC was listed as a historic theater to receive special recognition and funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve the significant playhouse. In 2008, through a public and private fundraising effort, the CCC was renovated and reopened to the public, and then conducted another major renovation and upgrade in 2009. The performances have not slowed or fallen short of the heyday for the small theater.

Strike at the Wind

“Strike at the Wind” at the Lumbee Tribe’s amphitheater. Photo by Willis Glassgow/UNCP

Following the recent regional revitalization of the arts, the famous play “Strike at the Wind” was brought back by popular demand in the Lumbee Tribe’s outdoor amphitheater. In 2017, the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center in Maxton aired the story with the help of UNC Pembroke to the resounding approval of the community, and this year’s performances run for two weekends beginning July 18 (contact GPAC for more information and tickets).

The NC General Assembly also saw the reawakening of arts in Robeson County by approving a $6.1 million renovation plan for GPAC. Future generations will also benefit from these renovations to keep alive our cultural arts for the people who will inherit these sites after us.

Just like the timeless constellations tell stories, the drama of the theater still sparkles in Robeson County. Look to the country of cotton, corn and culture to continue producing stage performances that both look back at formative events and forward to a future rich with the arts.

Carolina Civic Center
315 North Chestnut St.
Lumberton, NC

Givens Performing Arts Center
359 Prospect Rd.
Pembroke, NC

Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center
824 Terry Sanford Drive
Maxton, NC

About the Author

Carolina Country Contributing Editor Gordon Byrd is a veteran who works for UNC Pembroke.

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