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The Sottile Theatre: Then & Now

Posted by: Jennifer Stevens | June 26, 2012 | No Comment |


Originally named the Gloria Theatre, Sottile Theatre opened its doors on August 20, 1927. Built by Albert Sottile, President of the Pastime Amusement Company, the theatre served as both a vaudeville house and movie theater. The movie house was the largest of its kind in South Carolina, eventually hosting the state premiere of “Gone with the Wind.”

Sottile closed its doors to the public in 1975. The building was subsequently donated to the College by the Sottile family and the Pastime Amusement Company.

The theatre was refurbished beginning in 1986 under the direction of President Dr. Harry M. Lightsey Jr. During the renovation process, a modern heating and air conditioning system was added, and the stage was expanded. In addition, a two-story wing was built to provide scenery storage and expanded dressing room space.


While some additions have been made over the years, many of the original features remain. Walking into the auditorium, you are transported back to 1927. The ceiling features the same blue, sky-like dome that creates a star-filled atmosphere. The same style of rigging system, sandbags included, control many backdrops and props. Even the marquee along King Street, replaced in 2010 with a redesign modeled after the original Gloria Theatre marquee, rests in the same place it has been for over 80 years.

A formal feasibility study was conducted in 2010 to determine what steps the College could take to enhance Sottile Theatre. When Jeremiah Lewis, Technical Director of Sottile, joined the College in January 2011, he reviewed the study and identified the systems and equipment with the biggest need for updating. As the technical director, Lewis oversees all back-of-house aspects of Sottile Theatre including implementation of all performances and presentations, the maintenance of all technical systems and equipment, and the day-to-day operations of the venue.  He proposed a phased approach which lowered the overall cost and allowed for earlier implementation.  Under Lewis’s technical direction, the College has replaced the dimmer system and upgraded the lighting equipment. Sottile Theatre will be moving forward with replacing the audio system and updating the rigging system in the upcoming fiscal year.

In early 2011, soundboard renovations revealed remnants of decorative murals that were painted during the 1920’s construction of the theatre. The discovery of the murals, hidden beneath acoustic tiles, remains a major highlight in recent years. They were believed to have been painted by Italian artists. One mural remains on the right interior wall. Its counterpart (on the left interior wall) was removed to avoid further deterioration. Both murals are scheduled to undergo restoration pending funding from the Sottile Theatre Restoration Fund. Donations can be made through the College of Charleston Foundation.

The dimmer portion of the upgrade project was completed before the 2012 Spoleto Festival USA. The other two portions, audio upgrades and enhancements to the rigging system, are expected to complete before next year’s Festival. Other short-term goals include upgrades to the dressing rooms. Also, Physical Plant is currently working to adjust the HVAC system.


Starting July 9, Kelly Biscopink will join the College as the Event Coordinator for Sottile Theatre. The event coordinator oversees all front-of-house aspects of the Sottile, including guest services, and also serves as the primary College contact and rental agent for the Theatre. Biscopink has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre as well as over seven years of production management and touring experience. Her education and work experience will enhance client relations by allowing the Theatre to better communicate, identify, and accommodate their needs. Additionally, as the Sottile continues to grow, Biscopink will play a vital role in attracting larger touring groups and productions to the Theatre. As the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium undergoes renovation, the theatre is presented with a unique opportunity to host additional events in Charleston.

Over the years, Sottile Theatre has hosted a wide variety of events in the performing arts. It provides the College and Charleston community access to a variety of performances and presentations of local and area productions, as well as those of professional and international groups including music, dance, theatre, and cinema. In addition to cultural offerings, the Sottile hosts guest lectures and provides other educational opportunities to the College and Charleston area.

The theatre has played a major role in Spoleto Festival USA and will host the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in their upcoming season. Some exciting past events include: Charleston Stage’s presentation featuring Stephen Colbert in 2007; Spoleto Festival USA’s Monkey: Journey to the West in 2008; a lecture and student panel discussion with Elie Wiesel in September 2011; and several Bully Pulpit Series events including the filming of Fox News Huckabee Show where all GOP candidates were interviewed in 2012.

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