The Grand Opera House, located in downtown Wilmington, is celebrating its 150th birthday this season. This historic theater has been a landmark for the residents of Wilmington and the surrounding region since 1871. Originally home to the Grand Lodge of the Masons, the Grand has since played host to thousands of renowned entertainers and performing artists.
In its first season of operation, the Grand presented more than seventy performances that included everything from serious dramas to minstrel shows to lectures and exhibitions. Tickets that season cost a dollar for a reserved seat. Boxes were an extravagant $5 but seated four. In 1909, The Grand was briefly converted into a regular stop on the vaudeville circuit and then transitioned into a movie theater, eventually reduced to screening second-run horror films and Westerns. The building fell into decline and sadly closed its doors in 1967.
On December 22, 1971, the hundredth anniversary of its original grand opening, The Grand Opera House was again packed with people and excitement, as plans were unveiled to renovate the theater to its former splendor. Over the next few years, a thoughtful and complete restoration was undertaken. The Grand was rededicated on February 1, 1973 and began again to present the finest performing artists from around the world.
With the help of friends and philanthropists, The Grand acquired the lots next door and opened a companion theater building in 2000. The Baby Grand, a cozy 300-seat proscenium theater, occupies the first floor, with offices, rehearsal rooms and teaching spaces extending several floors above.
The Grand Today
The Grand and Baby Grand are beehives of artistic activity. The Grand presents more than 80 shows each season, ranging from the latest rock and comedy stars to classical music, dance, traditional American music, jazz, world arts, and family and variety performers as well. The Delaware Symphony, Opera Delaware, and First State Ballet Theatre are all in residence at The Grand, presenting full schedules in each of their disciplines.
In 2015, The Grand assumed operation of its sister theater on Market Street, The Playhouse on Rodney Square (formerly the DuPont Theatre), where they continue to present the Broadway in Wilmington series, as well as other, non-Broadway entertainment. The Playhouse has a similarly rich heritage as The Grand. Between The Grand, its resident performing companies, and rentals, the building hosts more than 300 events a year bringing more than 120,000 people into downtown Wilmington and through its doors.
Get ready to wish The Grand a Happy Birthday on December 22, 2021! And to see the full 2021/22 season visit www.thegrandwilmington.org.