AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Augusta is full of rich, Black history as it is the home of many pioneers in the arts and entertainment world: Jessye Norman, James Brown, and Tyrone Butler.
Tyrone Butler had a dream. Similar to the great Martin Luther King, Jr., Butler wanted to see young people of all races in the arts community come together and perform.
“Here we are, young folk just like me, not initially African-Americans, anyone who walked through the door,” says Butler. “It was done so that young folk who had the skill and the talent but didn’t have the financial means.”
October 8th, 1975 is a day that has been cemented in history as Butler took the initial steps in creating what would be known as the Augusta Mini Theatre.
“I was volunteering at the Wallace Branch Library, and I was with teenagers in the afternoon,” says Butler. “And my goal was to always be a singer and a dancer. And I got tired of procrastinating, and I went to the librarian, the late Gwendolyn Cummings, and I said to Mrs. Cummings, ‘Let’s do some shows over here.’ So, she took it to the main library here in Augusta, and they came back and said, ‘Ok.’
Coming out of what would be the beginning stages of the end of segregation in Augusta, Butler along with his wife and the artistic director of the Augusta Mini Theatre, Judith Simon-Butler, began their voyage of servitude to the arts in becoming the first performing arts school in Augusta to offer all of the disciplines which include acting, singing, dance, and visual arts, under one roof.
From the Wallace Branch Library to 8th Street to Deans Bridge Road, where they currently are located, the Butlers have been servicing students in the arts with the policy of not turning any students away no matter the color, identity, or financial status with all classes being open to all students.
Not only do Augusta Mini Theatre leaders focus on the arts, they understand their position in making sure that everyone that enters their doors is aware of historical events that shaped this city and our world including the 1970 Augusta Riot, and there is an exhibit for people to come and learn about what took place during that time at the Augusta Mini Theatre.
“And it’s not just for Black people to come see,” Butler says. “It’s for all people to come see what took place in our community so that it doesn’t happen again.”
However, not only is the Augusta Mini Theatre a place to learn about the past, it also a place to cultivate the future stars who will impact the entertainment space like Nicole M. Williams, who began at the Augusta Mini Theatre and has worked professionally nationally and internationally.
“The Augusta Mini Theatre has been so instrumental in my career because it is the foundation of everything,” says Williams. “Miss Butler taught us professionalism, how to focus, how to memorize.”
So, not only are the Butlers and the Augusta Mini Theatre historic staples of the past, but they are also monumental for the future.
Butler says they are currently raising money to build a 150-seat theater, and they need to raise $2.5 million. If you would like to donate, please contact the Augusta Mini Theatre.