The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, August 23, 1996, Columns

Community theatre at the Bastrop Opera House keeps alive a tradition that is over a century old. The latest reincarnation of the 106-year-old building has seen a remarkable 12-year run. The success of the theatre group has been largely due to the efforts an army of volunteers and its executive director, Chester Eitze, who has turned his creativity to raising money and presenting melodramatic comedy.

With a marketing talent as strong as his acting abilities, Eitze has turned the non-profit theater company into a success that includes children's programs and fairs, as well as regular performances. "You don't have to have a million-dollar

facility," he said, "but if the work is good and the audience is entertained, then you can build a reputation."

The Bastrop Opera House opened in 1890, and was called the Arian. In the first year, 21 different shows played the opera house. Built at a cost of $15,000, the Romanesque building served as a community center hosting recitals, graduations, and receptions. In 1910, vaudeville was replaced by movies.

The movie years were tough on the theatre and changes were made that mask the original building. The balcony was U-shaped, but the ends were removed. The lobby was enlarged for a snack bar and restrooms. And the stage was reduced from a depth of 28 to 10 feet.

They have been relying on a 1901 photograph to do much of the restoration project. The pressed tin arch over the stage and the curtain painted with advertisements maintain the vaudeville atmosphere. The tin ceiling has been repaired and repainted with money that has also fixed the roof.

The old theatre still needs lots of things and Eitze has a 20-year plan that will build the company. In order to keep growing, the group also needs rehearsal, office, and storage space. Eitze would also like to build a repertory company of paid actors who would supplement and teach the local volunteers. The productions are now presented, for full houses of mostly out-of-towners, by actors from the community.

New shows begin every two weeks and run for four Fridays and Saturdays. Performances are $4-$7 with an optional dinner for another $5-$8 depending on the menu (BYOB). Dinner begins at 6:30pm with the show at 7:30pm. The evening ends around 9pm.

The theater company also sponsored Yesterfest in downtown Bastrop on the last weekend of April, Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Fair on Thanksgiving weekend, and Christmas Feast. For information on upcoming shows or to make reservations, call 512/321-6283.

Coming up this weekend...

Gillespie County Fair in Fredericksburg is one of the oldest fairs in the state to present horse racing, exhibits, dancing, and country fun, Aug. 22-25. 210/997-2359.

St. Louis Day in Castroville centers around the old church and honors the area's history with fun and food, Aug. 25. 210/538-2267.

Coming up...

LBJ's Birthday at the parks in Stonewall include cookies, lemonade, and watermelon, 1pm-4pm, Aug. 27. 210/644-2252.

Birding Tour at Bob Wentz Park on Lake Travis teaches the basics of bird identification, 7:30-9:30pm, Aug. 29. 473-9437.

The Premature Corpse at the Bastrop Opera House runs Sept. 20-Oct. 12. 512/321-6293.

Murder on the Disoriented Express rides the Texas State Railroad from Palestine to Rusk. Who's the culprit? Oct. 19.

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