83 YEARS OF HISTORY
Mountain Theatre Company at The Highlands Playhouse, one of North Carolina’s oldest theatre companies, is the legacy of early forward-thinking families of Highlands. They sought to bring the art of theatre to our small mountain town during the height of The Great Depression.
The Highlands Playhouse was originally built as the auditorium for the Highlands School in 1931. In the mid-1930s, Jack and Virginia “Ted” Wilcox helped to create the first troupe of actors in Highlands. All amateurs, they began using the auditorium for summer theatre productions while school was out of session. The first big production was the hit Broadway comedy Dulcy, written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights, George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly. Reserved seats cost 50¢, bleacher seats were 35¢, and it was a sell out crowd! The magic of live theatre had arrived in Highlands.
This troupe of summer players formerly organized as the Highlands Little Theatre in the late 1930s. The Highlands Little Theatre was renamed Highlands Community Theatre in 1949. Over the decades, this dedicated troupe of players put on important works by notable authors. They mounted challenging plays by important playwrights including Thorton Wilder, George Bernard Shaw, and Ayn Rand.
When the present Highlands School opened in 1952, the town acquired the auditorium building, and our troupe of players had a permanent home. In 1972, the organization became a nonprofit organization, receiving 501(c)(3) tax exemption status, as Highlands Community Theatre, Inc.
As the organization grew over the next several decades, so did the number of shows produced, along with the number of talented actors, designers, and technicians needed for each season. In the early 1980s, Highlands Community Theatre, Inc. started hiring professional actors and technicians to share their talents on the Plateau. No longer a community theatre, the identity of the organization became that of the building it had occupied for over 50 years, The Highlands Playhouse.
Actors who tread the boards on the Playhouse stage went on to serve full and distinguished careers in the performing arts. Collin Wilcox, the daughter of Jack and Ted Wilcox who founded Highlands’ original acting troupe, studied at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio in New York. Over the course of her career she worked with Tallulah Bankhead, Geraldine Paige, and Tennessee Williams. Her most notable role came in 1961 as Mayella Ewell in the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. In her later years she returned to Highlands where she helped to found the Highlands Studio for the Arts, which offered arts education classes to children in her hometown.
We’ve come a long way from the Wilcox family’s dream of bringing quality theatre to the small town of Highlands nearly a century ago. As we mount our 84th season, the quiet off-season days of Highlands are long gone. With the expanded year round population, the newly renamed Mountain Theatre Company is producing live theatrical productions from July - December. Our future now seems brighter than ever, and the original players of the Highlands Little Theatre would be proud indeed.
“How could they have foreseen the growth of this charming town and the growing need for an expression by the people of Highlands? The point is, they did, and we now enjoy and grow as individuals and as a community with this cultural outlet…It grew and flourished and produced talent of professional caliber…It offered the young people in Highlands a chance to learn what theatre is all about…This year sees it stronger than ever and the dream a complete reality.”
The Galax News, July 27, 1967