A bright future for the Table Rock Opera House

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 10:37 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Members of the Table Rock Historical Society are working toward a goal of having performances in the town’s historic opera house again.

William Shomos is the Director of Opera at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He recently got a chance to sing on the Table Rock Opera House stage. “To step into this theater is just kind of overwhelming for me,” Shomos said. His goal is to promote the future of the opera house. “One of the ways we are going to do it is we are going to have our students come in and perform a few numbers to be video-taped in this space,” Shomos said. The performance would be virtual for now, with a hope that in the future, a live opera could be performed.

As you might imagine, the Table Rock Opera House is a landmark in town. Sharla Sitzman is with the Table Rock Historical Society. She says it’s truly an amazing place. “It was built in 1893,” Sitzman said. “And it is called a second and third story opera house. It’s been on the National Historic Register for about 25 years now, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s in beautiful shape.”

In many ways, the contents in the opera house seem untouched. “We’ve got two full sets of scenery here that is original, as well as the original painted stage curtain,” Sitzman said. “This place was used a lot. And never for an opera. It was used for class plays. Before the high school had a gymnasium, it was used for basketball games. It was used for high school graduations, lectures, and political rallies.”

By about 1920, the opera house was bought by a local fraternal organization. “ZCBJ bought it to use for a hall, and they continued to use it after that, but it wasn’t used so much for shows, and it gradually went into decline,” Sitzman said.

A man named Gordon Bethel-- who once owned the drugstore in town-- loved the opera house. He and his wife formed the historical society to save the building. “Then it was used as a museum for many years with just the whole auditorium full of exhibit cases and really neat stuff,” Sitzman said. “But as we’ve added new buildings, we’ve been able to move things out and now we are cleared out so we can restore it to it’s original function.”

Milan Tomek, who is a charter member of the local historical society, is very supportive of getting the opera house up and running. “Our Table Rock Historical Society is fortunate to be in good financial position because of really good donations,” Tomek said. “I said we need to make this thing come alive again. So I suggested that we start by putting in electricity, and eventually we’ll put in air conditioning and heat, fire exits, and we are going to have some shows up here.”

Getting fire exits up to code is a challenge right now, but not impossible. “It might be optimistic, but I’m hoping that within a year, or 2 years max, we will be up and running, maybe not full scale, but we will be ready to go,” Sitzman said.

William Shomos hopes UNL opera students can be among the first to grace the stage. “You go through rural Nebraska, and you find in these rural communities these opera houses, and it’s a pretty wonderful thing,” Shomos said.

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