Festival Hall on Beaufain Street plays home to a variety of productions at Spoleto Festival USA, a tribute to its versatility as a venue. Essentially a 10,000+ sq. ft. black box theater, it’s the only Festival venue operated by Spoleto Festival USA and it offers a dynamic performance space that will play host to acrobats, theater productions, and music. For both first-time and returning Spoleto Festival USA attendees, here are some hidden secrets about Festival Hall that you can bring with you to the Festival this year.
The original hall was a cultural hub for decades
The city had long wanted a new auditorium for the then Memminger High School on Beaufain St., but in the years following the Great Depression, funding was tight. With authority from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Works Agency commissioned the construction of a new gymnasium-auditorium. The building’s design was inspired by the neoclassicism of Charleston architect Robert Mills, famous for designing the Washington Monument and Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. Festival Hall was designed by Albert Simons, whose work also included restoring the Planters Hotel into the Dock Street Theatre and leading conservation efforts in the city.
The building opened September 21, 1939 and immediately became a cultural hub for the city. Its activity provided employment to the community suffering from devastating economic decline over the decade prior. It was for decades the city’s largest gathering place and the showcase venue for arts and culture.
Spoleto led a major restoration in 2008
Having fallen dark as a venue in the 70s and 80s, and rendered unsafe for public use after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo, the building sat dormant until Spoleto recognized the building’s superb acoustics and began programming adventurous works well-suited for a stripped-down industrial space. With a new sense of identity and purpose for the building, the Festival embarked on a multi-million dollar renovation of the space, that included its full rehabilitation, preservation, and expansion to include Festival-needed facilities like a scene bay and loading dock.
The renovation was led by noted Charleston architect Mario Gooden and the hall reopened to host the Festival’s 2008 production of “Amistad” to acclaim.
Its flexibility has hosted some of Spoleto’s most ambitious projects
Because the building has no fixed seating and features flexible production elements like a fully-accessible lighting grid above the entire space, Festival Hall can be near endlessly reconfigured. As such, it has hosted productions in the round and more. The venue hosted the US premieres of Emilie by Kaija Saariaho, Proserpina by Wolfgang Rhim with Heather Buck in the title role, and the play Don John by Kneehigh Theatre, directed by Emma Rice, among other ambitious performances.
Festival Hall plays host to events year round
Out of season, Festival Hall is now available as a rental venue for premier events in Charleston. Over the years, the facility has hosted television and movie productions, presidential town halls, political rallies, antiques shows, conferences, weddings—pretty much any kind of event can be held there. Even an MMA fight night!