In the late 19th century, Edward H.R. Lyman, a philanthropist and Northampton native, had a vision for a new venue for culture and theater in his hometown. On May 23, 1891, the Academy of Music Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time. One year later, Lyman deeded the Academy to the City of Northampton, making it the first municipally-owned theater in the nation.
The theater quickly became a favorite stop on the tours of leading troupes and big-name performers: legendary French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, film star Mae West, and illusionist Harry Houdini all performed at the Academy in the early 20th century.
The Academy has evolved over time. As Americans became less interested in live theater through the 1950s and 1960s, the theater experienced a period of decline and was ultimately condemned. In the 1970s it was reborn with great success as a cinema for first-run films. But in the shadow of the multiplex, the Academy began to lose its vitality once more.
Today, the Academy of Music has been reclaimed as a venue for live theater, as well as for dance, film, music and arts education. The Academy is home to resident companies such as the Pioneer Valley Ballet, Signature Sounds and Valley Light Opera, and partners including Eggtooth Productions, the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, Starlight’s Youth Theatre and WGBY. We are host to the Northampton Arts Council’s annual Four Sundays in February performances, co-present KidsBestFest and YouthFilm, and act as the anchor site of First Night Northampton. The Academy continues to present major performance groups from all over the world and stands proudly as one of the most iconic buildings in downtown Northampton.