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Curtain Rises: Civic Theatre of Allentown Nineteenth Street Theatre building achieves National Register of Historic Places status; “The Laramie Project” at Northampton Community College

An historic Allentown theater gets national designation and a play that examines a community’s response to the 1998 murder of a young gay man opens at Northampton Community College Theater.

On Feb. 12, the Nineteenth Street Theatre was officially named to National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

“Civic’s Nineteenth Street Theatre has been selected, confirmed and is on the National Register of Historic Places,” says Civic Theatre of Allentown’s Managing Artistic Director William Sanders.

The theater was nominated in September 2023.

The art deco building, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown, joins more than 50 other Lehigh County sites, including Haines Mill, Americus Hotel and Trout Hall, which also are on the register.

The National Register of Historic Places was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

It is meant to help “identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources,” and “help qualified historic properties receive preservation benefits and incentives,” according to the National Park Service’s website.

Situated in the heart of the West End Theatre District, the Nineteenth Street Theater was built in 1928, and is one of only two existing theaters designed by renowned architects Clarence S. Thalheimer and David D. Weitz of Philadelphia. In 1957, Civic Theatre (then Civic Little Theatre) bought the building renowned for its ornate and artful interiors and distinctive exterior.

In 2018, the theater underwent a $5.5-million renovation project that included restoring the ceiling, refurbishing an original mural along the rear of the auditorium and upgrading the seats, lobby, sound system and lighting.

NCC Theatre:

“The Laramie Project” will be presented March 7-11 in Norman Roberts Lab Theater at Northampton Community College’s Bethlehem Township campus.

The moving and powerful play provides a deeply complex portrait of the response of the residents of a Laramie, Wyo., to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a 25-year-old gay man.

“It’s the story of the town’s reaction after he’s found and his resulting death and murder trial.” says Clair M. Freeman, Northampton Community College theater department professor, who directs the play.

The Tectonic Theater Project, led by its founder Moisés Kaufman, created “The Laramie Project” by conducting interviews with residents of Laramie in response to the hate crime that took the life of Shepard.

Hailed as one of the most encompassing pieces of contemporary theater, “The Laramie Project” shocks, challenges and moves all who see it as it reveals the lowest depths of hatred and greatest heights of compassion that lie within a seemingly average community.

“The Laramie Project” examines the brutal murder, when Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, severely beaten, and left tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie. His battered body was not discovered until the next day, and he died several days later in an area hospital.

Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half, after the murder and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard.

They conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. Some people interviewed were directly connected to the case, while others were citizens of Laramie.

The play uses the actual words of Laramie residents and others to tell the story of Shepard’s assault and death, the murder trial and the impact these events had on a small town that found itself at the center of a national debate over homophobia and hate-crime legislation.

In 2009, the United States Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, legislation that strengthens existing hate-crime laws.

The ensemble cast includes Brooke Harrsch, Azelia Dos-Santos, Tamara Decker, Meaghan Lawlor, Cade Kocher, Aidan King, Aidan Weller and Andrew Maldonado.

“The Laramie Project,” 7:30 p.m. March 7, 8, 9, 11; 2 p.m. March 10, Norman Roberts Lab Theatre, Northampton Community College, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township. 484-484-3412, https://www.northampton.edu/

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Civic Theatre of Allentown's Nineteenth Street Theatre.