The North Theater: More Than an Illusion


Wayne Alan, World Champion Magician, sitting inside the historic North Theater.

Jackson Prebe, Staff Writer

Danville has a rich history, from a once bustling tobacco and textile industry, to being deeply involved in the Civil War, one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history, signs of Danville’s deep and storied history can be seen nearly anywhere you look. One aspect of Danville’s history which is often overlooked, is the theater and arts, which were once well established in what is now known as the River District. Situated just across the Main Street  Bridge and up the hill sits the historic North Theater, a symbol of the once bustling arts district that dominated its surrounding area.

 It is hard to miss the large marquee signs which hang over the front entrance, setting the tone for the historic theater experience one is sure to get when they visit the North Theater. Originally opened in 1947, the theater underwent a massive $3.5 million restoration in 2005, which stayed true to the roots of the North Theater’s history. The money, however, is not what has given the North Theater its renewed life, but rather the passion and enthusiasm of “the most famous magician you may have never heard of,” Wayne Alan, who has been the owner of the theater for the last seven years, and also serves as Danville’s director of arts and humanities.

Wayne has been a magician since the age of 10, after a friend in Cub Scouts performed a magic trick for him. 

“He had a Chinese pagoda, and he put a pencil in it, and he opened the doors and it disappeared. And I’m like ‘WOW, where’d it go?’ and he said ‘I can’t tell you, magicians never reveal their secrets.’ So, I said ‘Well, I’ll find out.’I started getting books on magic, and I probably have 5,000 now.” 

Alan did his first show at the age of 12 where he made $10, which was “a lot for the time.”

Since then, Alan spent the next few decades performing countless shows on some of the world’s biggest stages, including performances with Oprah Winfrey, performances on MTV, Inside Edition, and other major entertainment television networks, and he has performed 13 times in the White House. 

Still, despite all of his notable events, one of his fondest memories came when he was able to meet Señor Wences, a very popular ventriloquist whom Alan watched throughout his childhood.

“He performed on the old Ed Sullivan TV show, and he had a little box with a guy named Pedro. He would ask Pedro, ‘Is that alright with you Pedro?’ and he was famous for saying, [with a heavy accent] ‘s’awright’[It’s alright]. Well, when I won the olympics of magic, there’s a private magician’s club called the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and they sponsor a show called ‘It’s magic,’ and since I won, I was the headliner. I’m backstage, and they say ‘would you like to meet Señor Wences?’ So we go over, and we shake hands, and it doesn’t register to me that he’s carrying this box, it doesn’t even register. And Señor Wences says ‘Would you like to meet Pedro?’ and he opens the box, and Pedro says ‘S’awright.’ The biggest amount of money I ever made on one show was $50,000, but in all honestly, Señor Wences was right up there.”

Alan purchased the theater in 2012, and immersed himself in the history of not only the theater, but also the surrounding area. 

These are only small moments in Alan’s rich career, which has led him to meeting many well-known performers such as Criss Angel and David Copperfield. Still, just one conversation with Alan was enough to know that his focus is not on being complacent with his success, but rather investing in opportunities for future entertainers to be successful. 

“One thing I would like to do is teach, or at least lecture, to young performers.”

Furthermore, Alan has big plans for theater and arts in Danville, specifically in the immediate area of the theater itself.

“My goal is to try to turn this whole area around the theater into a theater and arts district, and put Danville on the map as a regional arts center.”

Alan believes, no matter the career path you take, you can always be a performer at heart.

“You can become an electrical engineer, state senator, you could even become the president of the country, but you may always want to act in your local theater group.”

Whether you are a fan of magic, live music, or just interested in visiting a historically restored theater, a visit to the North theater is sure to provide a wholesome, and intriguing experience. The short list of upcoming events include a Beatles tribute band, an Allman Brothers tribute band, and various other small events including Alan’s very own magic. Aside from this, the theater is preparing for a busy holiday season, where Alan hopes to bring the theater to life in the spirit of Halloween next month, as well as the holidays at the end of the year. A full list of upcoming events and more information can be found at the North theater’s website, or stop by and check one of the flyers posted on the front doors to see what the theater has going on at any given point in time.