Chautauqua Amphitheater

I haven’t seen it in a few years, but in my college years it was a scary adventure. Steps to the choir loft, shaky ladder upstairs, then two boards with no safety net 100 feet off the floor to the rickety sound booth.

Several people were around to change that, including donors, the board and my father, the new president. We sneaked in, college worker kids, to see the new setup, cool sound and light booth with safe access.

Now the story is tearing the entire thing down or renovating it. I’m hearing a lot from both sides and hear it from the side of safety and preservation. It should be a national landmark for the speeches that have been given there.

It is a venue in which I performed at age seven in the State choir competition, we sang Panis Angelicus and came in 2nd, and I’m still in touch with that grade school music teacher, Mrs. P.

I’ve mixed thoughts especially after meeting old friends last week. A week before that I received an e-mail with the old joke “How many Chautauquans does it take to change a light bulb? “Change?”

Yes, change. Many of us have been instruments of change over many years, me included. If one can preserve historic Victorian structures over the years in a pristine manner, fine. If they sag a foot and need an $8 million dollar renovation (many of them)  because of deferred maintenance that’s another issue that must be addressed for safety.

I believe the boards should be saved, in an appropriate manner, and starting with the last standing at Old First Night, first the descendants of Miller and Vincent, the founders and families with multiple generations.

Truth-telling, I’d build a house with it and wouldn’t even care that it was yellow. I walked, jogged or drove by it and caught snippets of a performance or lecture so many times during my work, before cell phone cameras that I never got enough photos of it. It will be remembered and I don’t know the plans but hope its spirit will be kept, and the entirety missed as someone knew 30, 50 or 80 years ago.

No, I don’t know the plans for it, only that what was done in the early 1980’s to shore up the roof by a foot and make it safe (and paint it, as Mark Russell said, echoed by a flautist, trumpeter and tuba artist all playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” in competition for the shortest version, to get the Amp painted.)

Some things change, some stay the same. It is wonderful to see my cornerstones of that venerable institution. In the meantime, ask before you change any light bulbs. Cheers! Three taps. Dee


One response to “Chautauqua Amphitheater

  1. My brother was amp crew, sweeper up the ranks. He corrected me. It was the light booth before the early work that raised the roof so it would not fall, and created a sound/light booth with safe conditions to enter/exit. Before that work that retained the character of Chautauqua’s prize that should have been declared an historic landmark, the sound was bad, coming from behind the stage.

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