The Hickory Community Theatre had its humble beginning in 1948 when the Hickory Recreation Department employed Kay Johnson to form a theatre group. Her first offering was a series of radio dramas aired on WIRC. In 1949, informal meetings, encouraged by the Kramer family, led to the formation of what was then known as The Hickory Little Theatre. The HLT first production was an evening of one-act plays, so successful that the company presented its first full-length production, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU in October in the auditorium at City Hall. The building has been the home of HCT ever since.
The Theatre grew in popularity and community support through the ’50s and staged its first musical production, THE BOYFRIEND, in 1958 – the same year that Charles Jeffers started his life-long involvement with HCT.
A new city hall was built in 1976 and HCT slowly moved into more of the old building. Renovations in 1984 led to the two performance spaces known to modern audiences, the extremely popular Firemen’s Kitchen and the HCT Mainstage, which the City Council renamed The Charles E. Jeffers Theatre in 1988, when the City turned over the entire building to the use of the Theatre. Renovations continued in the 1990s that completed the exterior restoration of the building and renovations to the Charles E. Jeffers Theatre.
Each year, HCT and its community of volunteers celebrate its yearlong season of productions, events, and activities with the Kay Awards ceremony. “The Kays” honor the volunteers who have labored and shared their talents to support the Theatre throughout the year. The awards, named in honor of Kay Johnson are hosted by the Guild at HCT.
The Guild represents the highest level of volunteerism at HCT. Guild members, in addition to their individual volunteer service, collectively complete projects to improve the appeal and function of the Theatre and conduct special fundraisers for purchase of needed equipment.
Charles Jeffers, Managing Artistic Director since 1960, officially retired from his full-time duties in 2000. Pamela Livingstone was chosen as the new Managing Artistic Director and she assumed the mantle in the 2000-2001 Season. In 2005 the job of Managing Artistic Director was split into two positions because the Theatre had reached the point that two people were required to manage the business and artistic affairs of HCT, and John Rambo was welcomed as Managing Director.
Pam retired in June 2020 and Eric Seale became the third Artistic Director of HCT.
The production quality at HCT has been recognized on the regional and state level, with actors and HCT receiving numerous awards from the Metrolina Theatre Association, The North Carolina Theatre Conference, and the Southeastern Theatre Conference.
In 2007, the Theatre added two new programs for specific age groups. The RugBug Theatre is dedicated to producing plays with youth actors, ages 7-14, performing for young audiences, as young as three years old. The Encore Players is a program for seniors that produces one production every season.
Capital improvements have been underway since 2012 and have yielded a restored and updated Jeffers Theatre, renovated restrooms on the main level, an updated, and flexible, performance space and concessions bar in the Firemen’s Kitchen, as well as beautifully updated restrooms on that lower level. In the 2017-2018 season, HCT unveiled a gorgeously expanded lobby area. Renovations to the actors’ rehearsal hall were begun in 2019 and completed in 2020.