Uptown! Performing Arts Center opening soon

Crews work to transform the old armory in West Chester into the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center.

The scent of wet paint and the racket of drills, hammers and saws will soon be replaced with the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd at the old armory on 226 N. High Street in West Chester.

The three-story building was a beehive of activity on a recent snowy day as electricians, carpenters, painters and plasterers worked feverishly to prepare the 100-year-old historic landmark for its second act. This old house is almost ready for its grand reveal as the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center.

Uptown! Entertainment Alliance Executive Director Angela Scully is excited about turning an old armory into a venue for professional theater.

“We can’t wait to have the public see and enjoy our space,” she said.

And over the next few months, art groups and programs will fill every nook and cranny of the Knauer to bring top quality live entertainment to West Chester.

There are eight resident music, dance and theater companies destined to create a thriving cultural hub in West Chester. People can enjoy one of the borough’s many excellent restaurants then walk or drive the short distance to the new theater to hear a concert or see a show.

The West Chester School of the Performing Arts will move in from its previous location across the street, jazz will fill the air in the Univest Room and Broadway shows, starring New York and Philadelphia actors, will grace the stage of the Bravo Main Stage Theater.

Uptown will also host a variety of festivals, including the West Chester Film Festival, as well as some of its own.

A reminder that the new performing arts center was once an armory.

A reminder that the new performing arts center was once an armory.

The Resident Theatre Company, with New York and Philadelphia actors, will present full seasons of New York theater shows. The first show, March 31 through April 16, will be the Broadway smash “Spamalot,” a play adapted from the 1975 film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

“Spamalot,” received three Tony Awards in 2005, including best musical. Five hundred tickets have already been sold.

Beginning this coming week, on Thursday, Jan. 19, vocalist Rhenda Fearrington will introduce the Sara Michaels 2017 Jazz Cocktail Hour Series in the intimate Univest Room.

“Better Than Bacon,” an interactive improvisational comedy ensemble, will deliver it’s first in a series of completely unscripted improvisational games on Friday, Jan. 27.

February and March will bring opera and flamenco to Knauer.

It was a group of friends who sowed the seeds of this soon-to-bloom flower, friends who shared a dream of creating a cultural hub and theater in the borough that would engage underserved ages and income groups.

Their brainstorming sessions evolved into a formalized non-profit organization in 2010 with a stated mission of “promoting cultural, economic, and civic life experiences in our community through live theater, music, dance, film and other local events in the heart of West Chester, Pennsylvania’s historic district.”

The official name — Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center — is a gesture of gratitude to Chris and Beth Knauer for their contribution to endeavor, which they gave in honor of Beth Knauer’s grandmother, Lena, and her parents, David and Nancy Knauer, who loved and supported West Chester, music and the arts.

While they were looking for the perfect building, the Uptown! Performing Arts Alliance presented programs at various West Chester locations and held several fundraisers. When the armory was vacated, they knew they had found their home.

The armory was the former home of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

In tribute to the building’s historic origins, the keystones located on the front walk, above the door and under the windows will remain. The inscription over the door, “Major John C. Groff Memorial Armory,” dedicated sometime in the 1920s and honoring the highly decorated WWI and WWII veterans will also stay. A mural of a soldier will keep its original location on the stairway and a photograph of Major John C. Groff returning from WWI will be prominently displayed.

For more information about Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center or to purchase tickets, call 484-639-9004 or visit www.uptownwc.org.

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About Lora B. Englehart

Lora has a passion for art, gardening, yoga, music and dancing. She continues to research the life of locally born abolitionist and 1998 National Women's Hall of Fame inductee Mary Ann Shadd Cary. She is a dedicated community volunteer, working with the American Association of University Women, Wilmington, DE branch (programs chair), Chadds Ford Historical Society (former board member) and Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art. Lora lives in Birmingham Township with her husband Bill and son Brad. Daughter Erika lives in Pittsburgh with husband Bob and baby Wilhelmina. She is a former French, Spanish and ESL teacher, bilingual life insurance underwriter and public relations coordinator for Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.

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