Dinner theatres are a great form of live entertainment and a great meal. Steeped in rich history, dinner theatres have in America since the 1950s. Dating back hundreds of years, there are many facts and trivia surrounding the history of this amazing form of fun. Here are five very cool things about dinner theatre that you may not have known.
1. The first formal dinner theatre in America was in Virginia
Opened in 1953 by David and Nancy Kilgore in Richmond, Virginia, the Barksdale Theatre was the United States’ first formal dinner theatre. Serving a buffet to patrons, the professional non-profit Barksdale Theatre prefers that people refer to it as a theatre that just happens to have a restaurant. Dinner was also optional.
2. In addition to traditional dinner theatre shows, there are also interactive dinner theatres
Not all dinner theatres are the same. Some have the diners interact with the performance. The most popular form of interactive dinner theatre is the murder mystery genre. Beginning in the late 1800s after a man named Constance Kent committed the Road Hill House murders and the novel detailing the murders was published, murder mystery games were introduced at dinner parties. Now the game once played to entertain guests at dinner parties in the 1800s is a form of dinner theatre.
3. Famous actors and actresses were apart of dinner theatre
In the 70s the biggest and most popular dinner theatres casted famous actresses and actors in the productions, ensuring sold out shows. Famous names like Sandra Dee, Mickey Rooney, and Betty White starred in productions. Sometimes actors wouldn’t just star in dinner theatres, but some of them actually owned their own. Burt Reynolds is one of many famous actors who decided he loved the dinner theatre so much that he opened his own in Jupiter, Florida. It stayed in business from 1979 to 1997.
4. The largest dinner theatre was opened in Akron, Ohio
With over 1,200 seats in the building, The Carousel Dinner Theatre was the largest dinner theatre in the United States. It kept its title as the largest operating dinner theatre in the United States from its opening in1973 until 2009 when they closed their doors. Patrons would enjoy the glitzy Vegas styled décor as they enjoyed shows like Phantom, which sold almost 1,150 seats most weekends.
5. Howard Douglass Wolfe is known as the father of dinner theatre
Considered the father of the dinner theatre, Howard Douglass Wolfe created the Barn Dinner Theatre franchise in 1961. The entrepreneur created 27 theatres in seven states with his partner and friend Conley Jones. What made his franchises so popular was the “magic stage” in the theatre. Essentially a stage with an elevator lift, the magic stage would elevate and turn into a wall between acts. Although the franchise eventually broke up, the theatre in Greensboro, North Carolina, named The Barn, is still open today. Opened in 1964, The Barn is now America’s oldest running dinner theatre.
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