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Opera House slate to become a concert hall

June 14, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

For more than 12 years, the owners of the Shepherdstown Opera House have carved out a niche by specializing in the showing of American and independent films.

They established a faithful patron base, and co-owner Rusty Berry estimates he has sold about 250,000 movie tickets since he and his wife, Pamela, opened the theater at 131 West German St.

Now it's time for something new. Rusty and Pamela Berry have decided to modify the 95-year-old theater so they can offer live music.

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Shepherdstown has always been a haven for live music, and those involved in the project think it will be a popular spot for musicians.

The Berrys have no plans to resume showing movies at the theater, although Rusty Berry said he and his wife will keep the movie equipment in case they want to show a movie for a special occasion.

Earlier this month, the Berrys closed the theater so the modifications could be completed.

The work includes installing four stage monitors, two public address speakers, a 16-channel mixing board and state-of-the art lighting, Rusty Berry said.

"We interviewed a lot of musicians and just asked them what they would expect to find. I spent $30,000 on lighting last week, so it should be very nice from that standpoint," Berry said.

Two more rows of seats are being installed at the front of the theater near the stage, which will give it a seating capacity of 151, Berry said.

Berry is excited about the acts he lined up so far for his venue, which is scheduled to reopen in early July.

For their first act, the Berrys felt it would be appropriate to showcase local talent. On July 16, Shepherdstown guitarist Scooter Scudieri, who has opened for performers such as Jewel and the Dave Matthews Band, will initiate the new setup.

The next day, the Bobby Parker Blues Band will perform. Parker has been a mainstay in popular music. His band was to perform with Buddy Holly when Holly died in a plane crash in Iowa in 1959, Berry said.

Among the other musicians scheduled to perform at the Shepherdstown Opera House is Jack Wilkins, considered to be one of the pre-eminent jazz guitarists. Wilkins will play at the theater July 30.

"People are coming out of the woodwork to play here because otherwise they are playing in smoke-filled bars," said Berry, who likes to think of his new creation as a "mini Birchmere."

The Birchmere is a legendary music hall in Alexandria, Va.

The new format at the Shepherdstown Opera House is reminiscent of its early days. When the theater was completed in 1909, it was designed for live performances, Berry said.

Little is known about those performances.

When it began, the theater was owned by C.S. Musser and his son, Willie, who also ran the Shepherdstown Independent newspaper, Berry said. The Mussers ran the theater until 1956.

The building sat vacant until the Berrys took it over. When they bought it, it was a "three-story pile of rubble," Berry said.

The stage area of the theater was exposed to the outside elements and extensive renovations had to be made to that section of the building.

The current work will cost about $50,000 to $60,000, which is a small price tag compared to the original renovation the Berrys completed.

"We put a quarter million (dollars) in renovations in this the first time," Berry said.

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