After seven years, Molly Fortune is moving on.
Fortune, who has been the executive director of the Newberry Opera House since 2015, is leaving behind her career in the entertainment industry to take a position with the Office of the Governor of South Carolina at the beginning of April. Throughout her tenure, Fortune has helped shepherd the roughly 400 seat venue about an hour away from Columbia and its host of regular concerts and other shows.
Fortune has taken on the role of director of the 250th Commission for the Celebration of the Revolution, which commemorates the state’s role in the Revolutionary War.
Fortune, who has spent more than two decades in the entertainment industry, said that the decision to leave Newberry was a difficult one, but she feels confident in what she’s leaving behind. Fortune was ready for a new challenge in her professional career, she explained as the impetus for her departure.
“I have a fantastic team and coming out of COVID, we kept the team together,” she said, “We think we were one of the first (venues) in the state to open and third in the country, and it really proved that they could do it. And a good leader knows when to step aside and let that team fly.”
In a press release issued last week, Jack Shields, the Chairman of the Foundation Board at the Newberry Opera House, applauded Fortune’s run in the top post.
“Over the past seven years Molly has steered the Newberry Opera House through a pandemic, a 25k person lunar Eclipsefest party, a Smithsonian tour through rural America and a few missions to Mars all while bringing world class entertainment to the Newberry stage,” he said in the release. “We hate to see her go, but she leaves the Opera House in one of the strongest positions that it has ever been.”
Fortune said she’s proud of the growth that the Opera House experienced during her time as its leader. The organization added family programming, diversity programming and educational programming and other efforts that helped expand its patrons towards a younger audience.
”We had traditionally never done programming in the summer. So we welcomed in an entire generation of kids that had not been there before,” Fortune said.
Fortune also oversaw the opera house as a dramatic shift in the way people engaged with entertainment and other media.
She remarked that the shift towards cell phone and other technological-based entertainment was more difficult to handle than the COVID-19 pandemic, with the way people began to gravitate away from in-person entertainment.
“Staying relevant is one of the hardest things. What the kids want to see? What do parents want to see? What do the 50-year-olds want to see?” Fortune asked rhetorically. “And not only what’s on our stage, but what’s happening in our community that we need to participate in? So the biggest word is just relevancy.”
Before her run as executive director, Fortune was the Atlanta-based Fox Theatre’s Director of Restoration & Operation and in a supporting role at Newberry Opera House.
In 2017, Fortune organized the opera house’s Eclipsefest to mark the total solar eclipse that drew in visitors across the country. She highlighted that festival and a personal moment in it as a highlight of her tenure.
“A kid brought his mom in,” Fortune says. “And what he said was, ‘Mom, this is where I built a rocket!’ And then he took her upstairs and he showed her around. That was one of those moments. It was like, ‘Yes, we’ve succeeded.’”
In the release announcing Fortune’s departure, the opera house detailed it was seeking applicants immediately for her successor.