Much Ado: Ready for showtime, A tribute to the Tryon Theatre

Published 9:48 am Monday, August 6, 2018

I love going to the movies, and I have always considered the Tryon Theatre to be one of my favorite places to sit in the dark to watch the world of make-believe on the silver screen.

By now — hopefully — all of the renovations will be complete and the old girl will be gussied up and in full swing once again. I’m sure that old moldy-looking ceiling stain that I used to stare at while waiting for the lights to go down will be painted over. I guess I’ll just have to find some other abstraction to ponder prior to the previews.

If you live in or around Tryon, you could hardly not be aware that the old Tryon Theatre has been undergoing a much-needed renovation during the past few months. Workers have been hauling old stuff out and new stuff in, often blocking the sidewalk, which was no big deal and well worth the sidestepping. We have watched the exterior get a new paint job in a sort of cool art deco style. Love the logo!

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The new owners — Gayle and Scott Lane, who I don’t know — have made great efforts to let the local community know about and anticipate the cinema’s rebirth.

Yes, the balcony will be remain. Yes, balcony access will still be via the separate entrance. Yes, you’ll still be able to buy and drink beer and wine.

No, you’ll no longer have to fear getting mold in your lungs.

Basically, they are trying to keep the best and most-beloved features and improve the overall experience. From what we see and hear, they are accomplishing this goal, and I can’t wait to see for myself.

My first visit to the Tryon Theatre was probably about 30 years ago, when my wife and in-laws took me, saying it would be a unique experience. I don’t recall the movie, but I do recall being a little confused about the whole separate-entrance-to-the-balcony thing. I got a history lesson in segregation in the South.

And, I was pleasantly surprised to buy beer in the balcony. Actually, it was love at first sitting in the balcony — it made me feel special, above it all.

Dumb segregationists. They gave the best seats in the house to the very people they were trying to discriminate against.

But let’s not fool ourselves — time had taken its toll, and the theater was sort of ratty. No one was complaining, and after my first experience, I, too, learned to love the casual rattiness of the venue.

I’ve never believed in dressing up to sit in a dark room with strangers, and going to the Tryon Theatre was even more reason to wear my baggy pants with worn-away cuffs, untucked and un-ironed shirt, and slip-on garden shoes.

Frankly, I not alone in my choice of theater attire. The folks in the Carolina Foothills make dressing down an art form of casually shabby but chic.

Where else in the world can women of a certain age wear long grey hair with such confidence and the men not feel compelled to suck in their guts when approached by these women to dance?

In the years that followed, I almost always chose to sit in the balcony, where I could see the expired splendor of the theater. The ceiling had dark stains that my waiting mind could turn into shapes of fantasy.

The beer probably added to that little creative exploration.

The floor was a little sticky, so I always wore shoes instead of flip-flops. The chairs were worn, squeaky, lumpy and sometimes just plain broken. Some of the wall coverings had long past stop serving their purpose. And, who in the world designed the stage with faux doors and exposed lights?

Yes, there was plenty wrong with the Tryon Theatre, but there was something special about it that kept people like me coming back and keeping our observed defects to ourselves.

Personally, I never chose to complain for fear that change would take away the charm that endured through the ages. God forbid that it might actually close! That would certainly be a horror show.

I would much rather sit in a lumpy balcony seat with beer in hand at the Tryon Theatre than one of those multiplex places where everything is hermetically sealed and sheriff deputies stand ready to tase middle-age men who over-salt their second (and free) large bucket of popped starch.

Most of us endured and loved the tattered and torn old Tryon Theatre, hoping it would never change.

But not all good things come to an end. Like the wine and women of the Foothills, some things get better with age — and so we hope is the case with the Tryon Theatre.

Thank you, Gayle and Scott, for stepping up to the challenge of saving one of Tryon’s most beloved landmarks. I can’t wait to not see you in the dark.

Don’t shhh me: I’m sitting in the balcony, where talking about the movie during the movie is culturally acceptable in Tryon.•

Steve Wong is a writer living in the peach orchards in Gramling, South Carolina. He can be reached online at