80 years of stage and screen

Longest running theater group in North Carolina celebrates milestone anniversay

The Highlands Playhouse is celebrating 80 years of entertainment this summer.
According to Playhouse Managing Director Lance Matzke, the Highlands Playhouse has played a rich part of the heritage and tradition of Highlands, over the years.  
“We are honored and humbled how the community and our patrons have supported the playhouse over the years,” he said. “The Highlands Playhouse is the longest running operating theater in North Carolina.”
The Playhouse has a special place in Matzke’s heart, and with residents and patrons.
Matzke came to Highlands from Florida and has worked with the Highlands Playhouse since 2016. He and fiancé Paige Baty, box office manager, have made the Highlands Playhouse their family. It’s a labor of love, they said. In fact, the couple plan on being married at the Playhouse, where they fell in love.
“This place means a lot to the both of us,” said Baty, a Highlands native and in her fourth season with the Playhouse.
According to Matzke, the Highlands Playhouse began in 1938, doubling as the school auditorium for the Highlands School. The auditorium was originally built in 1936, when the school occupied the site where the Highlands Police Department headquarters now resides on Oak Street, atop what was known back then as Knowledge Hill.
A group of Highlands residents presented a production of “Dulce,” in the auditorium, a comedy by George Kaufman and Marc Connelly, for one performance. The playhouse then doubled as the Highlands School’s auditorium until the school moved to its current location on North Fifth Street in 1952.
 “We have people to this day who will come in here and tell us how they walked across that very same stage to collect their high school diplomas,” Matzke said. “The acting troupe was encouraged by the audience’s reception of the play and formed the Highlands Community Theater, and it’s still our official name today.”
After the school relocated, the town bought the building and now leases it to the Highlands Playhouse for a dollar a year, Matzke said.
“Every summer except for two years during World War II, there has been a season of plays here at the Highlands Playhouse” he said.
This season, like seasons past, the Playhouse has brought live theater and movies to the community. Rehearsals for the performance of “Guys and Dolls,” has kept the former Highlands School auditorium a busy place of late. Matzke said as the troupe killed it on the June 28 opening night.  
“It was a great performance and a fantastic opening night crowd,” he said.
“Guys and Dolls,” premiered on Broadway in 1950 and ran for 1,200 performances, winning a Tony Award for Best Musical. The film version is a 1955 production, appearing both on Broadway and the silver screen, with Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons starring. The current edition of the play is directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Bill Patti, and stars Bill Russell as Nathan Detroit, Jeffrey Sullivan as Sky Masterson and Haile Ferrier as Sarah Brown, the Sinatra, Brando and Simmons’ roles respectively. Guys and Dolls runs through July 14, with no performance on July 8.
An official commemoration of the milestone year and history of the Playhouse will be held on July 27, with activities planned prior to the evening performance of “Damn Yankees.”
“We have a full evening of events including a forum with former Playhouse alumni and town residents, and a proclamation read by Mayor Patrick Taylor,” Matzke said. “The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. with Highlands Playhouse alumni and members of the Highlands community sharing their favorite Playhouse stories.”
The “Damn Yankees” performance begins at 8 p.m. with a champagne celebration during the intermission. Guests are invited to mingle with the actors following the performance.
Tickets for performances are $40 and can be purchased online at highlandsplayhouse.org, by calling 828-526-2695 or in person at the Playhouse box office.

The Highlander

Phone: 1-828-526-4114 
Main Fax: 1-828-526-3658 

Address: PO Box 249, Highlands, NC 28741
Located: 134 N. Fifth Street, Highlands, NC 28741 
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am - 5pm