Lynchburg historic theatre reopens after 60 years with integrated audience for the first time

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) -- It was bustling in downtown Lynchburg Thursday night, for the first public performance at the Historic Academy of music theatre in 60 years!

It was a night filled with performances and applause - a night that means more to the Lynchburg community than just the talent on stage. "We only get one chance to open up, this is it, we don't get to have an opening night ever again and I thought it was really important that we send a real clear message right out the gate," explained Geoffrey Kershner the executive director at the Academy Center of the Arts.

For the first time in 60 years, the Historic Academy of music theatre opened its curtains.

And for the first time ever, with an integrated audience. "In the Jim Crow South a lot of places were segregated and this was no exception," Kershner.

The theatre held its last performance in 1958 as a segregated public space. "We were not allowed to come through the front doors at the time, we had to go around to the side," recalled Betty Ford who used to go to the theatre as a young girl.

Ford and Peggy Austin remember it well. "And go up those steps to the balcony," Austin added.

The laws relegated black citizens to enter from a side door, only to go up these steps to get their tickets and sit in the second balcony. "We were so used to it, it was unknown," Austin said.

"Tonight's about switching the narrative on that and making this a space that's inclusive and accessible for everybody," said Kershner.

So tonight, through performances of inclusion and unity, the community celebrated its first integration of the Historic Academy of music theatre.

Theatre goers were treated to many performances Thursday night, including artist Mavis Staples