It's magic! Staunton turns back the clock
Spring is just blossoming with festivals, I know. So little time, right? But here’s a festival that just might entice you to take the entire weekend off-– or at least a full Saturday. It requires taking to the highway– I-64 West– and driving through the pale green mountains of the Shenandoah/Blue Ridge to historic Staunton for the 5th Annual Victorian Festival.
Everybody’s been to Staunton-– historic railroad hub, gorgeously preserved and sporadically revived downtown, home of Mary Baldwin College. But how many of us have actually taken the time to get to know our most genteel neighbor? This is our chance. From April 25 through April 27, the historic streets of the proud little city will be alive with 21st century Victorian vitality-– people in period costumes, old-timey activities (horse and buggy rides, boxing, Victorian tea, carousel rides), live music, arts and crafts, foods, and special walking tours.
The jam-packed festival schedule makes singling out a particular event a challenge. But in addition to the ghost walks, the magic shows, the traditional Victorian Ball and the Brass Car Tour (pre-1916 automobiles), the Magic-Lantern Show must be mentioned.
A popular Gay Nineties form of entertainment, and the great-grandpa of the movies, a Magic Lantern is a huge brass-and-mahogany projector lit with gas "limelight" that rapidly projects hand-colored slides onto a screen. The slides– many of them animated– illustrate stories, songs, and comedy, just as the movies would later.
A live showman and musician provide the soundtrack, and the audience joins in creating sound effects, playing horns and tambourines, chanting and clapping, booing and cheering, just as in a melodrama.
The festival’s re-created "Spring Magic-Lantern Show" is produced by The American Magic-Lantern Theater, the nation's only theater company specializing in this form of old-fashioned entertainment. Says Terry Borton, lead showman of the theater, "When I was a child, my father put on shows for us, using the same slides and dramatic style that his grandfather had used at the turn of the century. Some of those same slides are in our shows today, a hundred years later. And I hope that my style is just as dramatic and memorable as great-grandpa's was back then!"
All in all, this festival sounds like a darned good excuse to turn back the clock-– at least for a weekend.
Staunton’s 5th Annual Victorian Spring Festival runs from April 25 through April 27. Catch “The Magic Lantern Show” in several performances at The Dixie Theatre on Beverley Street: Saturday at 10:30, 11:30, 2pm, 3pm, and Sunday at 1, 2, 3 and 4pm. $2 adults; $1 children. Most other events are free. For more info and a complete schedule, see stauntondowntown.org or call 800-332-5219.