The Lyric Theatre on College Avenue has been in the storytelling business for more than a hundred years, and in that time has also left its mark in its audiences’ own stories.
Those marks have only existed as memories in the mind of the Lyric’s guests and volunteers, until now.
The Lyric’s Council Board of Directors is capturing the history of the theatre through a memory book, which will portray the stories of people who have cherished memories in the historic Blacksburg location.
“Well, the idea first got started five years ago, and it wasn’t really our idea,” said Susan Mattingly, the executive director of the Lyric Theatre.
At the time, a writer’s group called New River Writer’s Workshop was planning to create a memory book for the Lyric. Later, this effort was reduced to just an idea when the Lyric lost the help of the writing group.
Mattingly however, said the theatre’s committee members were still inspired by the idea that they had a special story to tell, and they wanted to share it.
Every member of the memory book committee can recount at least one story of the Lyric Theatre’s history. In the past 40 years alone, the theatre has played various roles from hosting biology classes, marriages and even political candidates.
The Lyric has also, of course, staged live performances and screened countless movie showings. It is the only movie theatre in town that has remained standing since opening.
Linda Plaut, the secretary of the Lyric Council Board of Directors, said the Lyric has thrived because it does what many multiplex theaters do not: serves as a place for the community to gather.
Rather than housing multiple theaters and audiences for each showing, the Lyric’s patrons enjoy a film as one group. Special events targeted for students and community members have also made the Lyric a local attraction.
Lindsay West, former chair of the Lyric’s board of directors, said the Lyric’s attraction is ageless.
“[The memory book project] reminds me of what a strong impression the Lyric has made on people while they lived here or lived as students here,” West said. “It reminds me of what a fixture of the community the theatre has always been and continues to be.”
Plaut refers to West as the history of the Lyric herself.
In 1994, West was chair of the board of directors that restored the theatre and began to gather essential pieces of the building’s history, which she called treasures.
Some of the Lyric’s history has passed on with members of the theatre who are no longer alive. Their losses have only spurred on the work to gather the remaining unsung history.
It seems to be good timing, too, as the Blacksburg Museum is collecting histories from people in the area. The oral histories are even being recorded in the Lyric.
“The museum is collecting oral histories from around town and from people of all walks of life,” Mattingly said. “A lot of those stories overlap (with ours.)”
While the group creating the book is small, gathering stories is easier thanks to a modern source of help — social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogging have all become a channel for Lyric patrons and members to write their stories.
Though the method of gathering of stories is timely, the purpose is to bridge multiple generations together through memories of a place they all enjoyed.
“A place like The Lyric is the sum of the community,” Mattingly said. “Everyone’s story is what makes it relevant.”
Although creating the memory book will be a long process for the Lyric’s committee members, Mattingly and her colleagues are thrilled to be piecing the theatre’s history together.
There is a sweeping spectrum of stories to link, but Mattingly said this establishment and others like it are the centers of a community.
“We started out as sort of a vaudeville house and theatre, we were a segregated theatre, that’s a story worth telling,” Mattingly said.
Since its birth, moviegoers have shaped the Lyric in their minds with their own recollections of why the theatre is such a treasured place with their own stories.
“I met my husband [at the Lyric Theatre] at a blind date arranged by our teenage daughters,” Plaut said. “We saw Peggy Sue Got Married.”
It’s these small but pivotal moments interwoven with major renovations or changes in the Lyric’s history that complete the story of the Blacksburg landmark, one the memory book committee is striving to record.