By Pamela A. Keene
Photos courtesy Holly Theater
When Hal Williams chaired the Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce nearly 30 years ago, he and his wife Carol owned a Christmas store in downtown Dahlonega. Things were not necessarily booming in the Lumpkin County seat.
“Some of us began talking about expanding tourism here in the early ’90s, and someone said, ‘What a shame that somebody doesn’t do something about the old Holly Theatre,’” says Hal, who today serves as president of the Holly Theater Board. “It was falling in after having been closed since the early 1980s, so we started a letter campaign to restore the Holly and received overwhelming community support. It officially reopened in 1993.”
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Holly Theater presents a community theater season, a concert season, children’s theater productions, plus classes and a summer camp for youth. It has helped drive visitation to Dahlonega’s square and the 16 or so restaurants in and around the square.
The Holly Performance Academy opened in 1994, one year after the theater’s grand re-opening. “We have trained students who are now on Broadway and working in theaters across the country, onstage and in tech or administration,” Hall says. “One-third of all the drama teachers here are graduates of the academy. The program continues to be a success.”
Deep Roots in Theater and Film
Long before Georgia became one of the top three states in the country to host movie productions, Dahlonega was on filmmakers’ radar. According to the written history of the Holly Theater, Fox Film Company used a nearby abandoned gold mine to shoot the silent film “The Plunder,” inspired by a novel written by Roy North. Other silent movies followed, including “Big Jim Garrity,” “The Great Divide, “Driven,” and “The Daughter of Devil Dan,” all in the 1920s.
Town fathers began showing movies in a building downtown in that same decade, but it wasn’t until 1939, when Randall Holly Brannon leased the building, added a ticket booth, double doors and a sign that said “Theatre” out front that an official theater became part of the community.
Eventually, Brannon broke ground on a new theater building and by 1948, the Holly Theater hosted its grand opening showing the film “The Bride Goes Wild.” Over the years, the theater opened and closed several times; it was occasionally rented for events and in 1980 housed the Harvest Bible Church.
“The building’s exterior is much like it was when it first opened,” Hal says. “We cleaned and stripped the seats, and since it re-opened we’ve enlarged the stage four times. We have seating for 306 and can produce multi-dimensional shows. We have an upper stage and two side upper stages. We can be much more innovative with our productions.”
In 2016, the Square was featured in the Hallmark made-for-TV film, “Christmas in Homestead,” and for three weeks, Dahlonega became the fictional town of Homestead, Iowa. Some of the movie was filmed at the Holly Theater.
For its 25th anniversary season, the Holly Theater will present a series of musicals. The first, “Anything Goes,” takes place March 9-11, 23-25. Featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, it’s the story of a madcap antics aboard an ocean liner traveling from New York to London. The musical has enjoyed several revivals on Broadway since it premiered in 1934. Other shows this season are Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” in May, Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in August and “Annie” in late November and early December.
Concerts include Johnny Cash Now with June Carter Cash tribute show on Feb. 16; Satisfaction-The International Rolling Stones Show in May; Elvis: The Concert Years by Patrick Johnson in June and Banks and Shane in July.
“We present 20-plus shows each year and all our concerts sell out,” Hal says. “We certainly owe our success to the people of Dahlonega, Lumpkin County and North Georgia who continue to support us. The Historic Holly Theater is, in the truest sense, a community theater.”
For more information, call The Holly Theater, 69 West Main St., Dahlonega, at 706-530-5162 or visit www.hollytheater.com.