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Opera House offers a ‘popping’ good time

By Staff | Nov 26, 2010

It is such good news that Lawrence and Julie Cumbo have purchased the Shepherdstown Opera House theater. Those of us who love the old theater, the programming of independent films and even the narrow, antique, add-an-extra-cushion seating are heartened at the prospect of new leadership, new ideas and new energy.

But there’s one thing that mustn’t change, and I’ve been assured that it won’t. The Opera House popcorn recipe remains.

“Our menu already says, ‘Original Recipe,'” Lawrence Cumbo said. “The recipe conveyed with the sale.”

Well thank goodness for that. And for this: the Cumbos have found a good use for the popped corn that is left over at the end of the day. It will be going to PIGS, a livestock sanctuary just outside of town that is currently home to more than 400 potbellied and farm pigs, goats, horses, cats and dogs.

The 55-acre sanctuary was established in 1992, in the wake of a short craze for Vietnamese potbellied pigs as pets. Lots of people were buying the swine without understanding that even a miniature pig can grow to be 400 pounds and at any size prefers wallowing in mud to staying indoors. Pretty soon, there were a lot of pigs showing up at shelters.

Many of the animals at PIGS have come as a result of abuse or neglect and are considered unadoptable. The sanctuary is their home for life. The love, care and protection they couldn’t find elsewhere, they find there.

And now, for those that can eat it, there will be Opera House popcorn, too.

And for the rest of us, the Cumbos have other treats in store.

“Healthier sodas,” Lawrence Cumbo said, will be offered, and soda will be sold in bottles, not cans.

“It just tastes better out of a bottle,” he said.

Other bottled fare will include local microbrewed beers that are new to the menu. Maryland-brewed Flying Dog and Martinsburg-based Mountaineer brews will be sold, as well as Yuengling, which Cumbo said is simply a mass-market favorite.

Additionally, the menu will expand to include heartier healthy options, such as hummus and fresh fruit. Particularly on Saturdays, when matinee programming will trend toward family fare, there will be concessions that won’t turn children into sugar-fueled monsters.

And now, a monthly membership of $5 will provide admission to unlimited Saturday matinees. The proceeds will benefit area charities, beginning with PIGS.

The 101-year-old theater has been through surprisingly few changes in its more-than-a-century of operation. Opened as a silent-movie theater, it is believed to be the first in West Virginia to show “talkies.” Now closed to patrons, its balcony was used in the early days to seat black patrons under segregation. When integration opened all areas to all patrons in the 1950s, the theater closed.

Then in the 1980s, Pam and Rusty Berry came along. It took them five years to restore the building, demolishing limestone outcroppings at the front of the house to construct bathrooms and restoring the original 131 seats. In 1992, the screen lit up again for moviegoers for the first time. Since then, film lovers have depended on the Opera House to bring intelligent selections not shown at malls and multiplexes.

Now the historic theater enters its next phase. Cumbo said he plans to screen film festivals, such as the student films he showed on his first night at the Opera House. Further collaboration with Shepherd University is expected. “Obviously, the university is a huge part of the town,” said Cumbo, a videographer whose work has been shown on the National Geographic and Discovery channels.

Other surprises are in the works, Cumbo said. But he added that he won’t be removing the Opera House seats, which although legitimately antique, are famously uncomfortable. Part of the ritual of seeing movies there is arriving early enough to prowl the aisle in search of empty seats with extra cushions available, then snagging one (or two!). But no complaints.

If we can have independent films and Opera House popcorn, all is well in Shepherdstown.