The Dixon Center at 30

Published 12:40 am Saturday, May 19, 2012


Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Martha and Solon Dixon Center for the Performing Arts or the “Dixon Center” as it is commonly known. At 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon in 1982 the first audience filled the then-orange seats for a short dedication.

That evening, the first audience attended a performance – the LBW music department’s production of The Fantasticks. The Fantasticks still holds the longevity record for off-Broadway productions. It ran for 42 years or 17,162 performances. It is very likely the Dixon Center will eclipse that 42-year mark.

Thanks to continued donations of the Dixon Foundation, the Dixon Center appears not to have aged at all. A new lobby and new seats make the greatest visual change in its 30-year history. But the curtains were once brown and not black and the stage floor pine and not oak. As for other equipment, eight of the original stage lights are still in use as are two small amplifiers. Most of the Dixon Center’s other original lighting sound equipment has been replaced at least once – some three times. The high standards set by the original building design have been maintained over the years as new technologies have been added.

In its first year the Dixon Center hosted performances by the Alabama Ballet, the Alabama Symphony, and Alabama Shakespeare Festival. These LBW (Covington) Arts Council events continued over the years with shows from all over the world. A Russian ballet and pianist, Irish musicians and numerous Broadway touring companies have highlighted the 30 years of Arts Council seasons.

The Andalusia Ballet and Covington County Junior Miss Programs moved into the Dixon Center in its second season and continue today with annual programs. The Ballet’s Nutcracker has served as an introduction to the Dixon Center and the world of theatre with its performance’s for the county’s fifth graders. The Covington Arts Council has further nurtured that interest with annual Missoula Children Theatre. Local children perform in their own production after only a week of intense practices.

Of course, LBW College has produced the largest body of work for the Dixon Center audiences. Beginning with The Fanatastics, Eric Lidh and the late Jerry Padgett produced one or two shows every year for 20 years. When the college switched from the quarter system the semester system, it became more difficult to schedule productions. But the college has continued the tradition with summer productions. Most production included a mix both college students and community performers. Roger Powell (the soon-to-be retired circuit clerk) was in nine of the first 14 productions and current Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson played Captian von Trappe in the 1983 LBW production of The Sound of Music.

ACT One, the local community theatre group has picked up most of the void left by lack of college productions. ACT One has produced nearly 20 shows since its inception including the highly successful Annie and Oliver.

Over the last 30 years Dixon Center has hosted everything from beauty pageants to body building contests; large Broadway productions to political debates; the annual “Red Garter Review” (for 29 years) to the “Freedom Forum” for the county’s ninth graders (for 15 years). As long as audience fill the seats the Dixon Center, the dream of Martha and Solon Dixon for a world class theatre in our small town will continue to be realized.