July 20 – 26, 2012 Vol. 14, No. 7


Summertime in the Belgrades

July 20 – 26

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The Curtain Rises on a Newly Renovated Opera House

A view of the stage from the left balcony.

by Gregor Smith

Filmgoers at this year's Maine International Film Festival may notice a number of changes large and small to the Waterville Opera House. The storied theater is winding down a year-and-a-half-long renovation and expansion.

Completed in 1902, the Waterville Opera House has hosted countless countless concerts and stage plays, but by the start of its second century, this grand old theater was showing its age. Indeed, until the start of the current renovation, the only significant upgrade had been the replacement of the seats on the main floor more than a quarter century ago.

Thus, in 2009, Opera House began a $4.9 million fundraising campaign. Thanks in large part to a $2.3 million matching grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, the organization had raised enough money by the spring of 2011 to start the work. This led to a yearlong closure of the hall, which ended triumphantly with its gala reopening on the last Friday in April.

All the seats in the balcony have been replaced.

The changes most visible to theatergoers are in the lobby and in the balcony. The lobby has been expanded and refurbished, with new paint and wainscoting and refinished oak banisters and railings. There are also new restrooms and a concession stand.

In the balcony, the century-old seats have all been replaced. The new seats are more comfortable and are level, so that patrons in the side balconies will no longer feel themselves sliding toward the stage. In addition, the balcony aisles and the staircases leading from the side balconies down to the front of the house have been widened, allowing balcony patrons to leave the theater more quickly and more safely.

Another important change will benefit the actors. The three levels of dressing rooms on either side of the stage have been torn down. No longer will actors have to climb rickety wooden stairs to get to small, dingy, waterless changing spaces! New dressing rooms with toilets and showers have been built in a second-story addition on the north side of the building. The rooms are of varying sizes to meet the needs of different casts.

The northern side of Waterville's city hall has two additions: the second-story, bowed annex for the actors' dressing rooms and public restrooms and the scene shop at lower left. The historic façade, which faces Castonguay Square remains unchanged.

Four other changes will expand the range and number of events the Opera House can offer:

  • The theater now has its own digital projector and a motorized screen that is mounted above the stage and can be raised and lowered on command. No longer will MIFF need to rent equipment especially for the festival, and the Opera House will be able to host special film screenings at other times of year. By fall, the venue expects to have a satellite dish as well, so that it can receive live high-definition broadcasts, such as of operas and plays from world-renowned companies.
  • Thanks to a new set construction shop in a ground-level annex below and to the left of the dressing-room addition, sets will no longer have to built on stage, opening the stage to other uses until just before a major production.
  • The addition of a freight elevator means that set pieces, instruments, and other large equipment will no longer have to be hauled up the stairs. Having the freight elevator and the set construction shop will enable the Opera House to host more frequent and more varied events by touring artists.
  • By October, the theater will have a portable thrust stage that will extend over the orchestra pit. Designed so that it can be easily put up, taken down, and put away, this extension will allow the stage to hold an orchestra of fifty players — ten more than it can easily hold now — as well as permitting chamber groups to sit farther out, so that their sound will project better.

The lobby has been expanded and refurbished, with a new snack bar at left and new restrooms in the rear.

Although the renovations are almost done, the Opera House still needs to raise $600,000. For a donation of $250 or more, you can "buy" a seat and have your name or that of a loved inscribed on a nameplate. If you would like to what your dollars are buying, including the parts of theater that the public normally does not see, you can tour the theater and its backstage during the Taste of Greater Waterville on Wednesday, August 1, at noon or 4:00 p.m.

After MIFF, the rejuvenated venue will host a number of exciting events in the next few months. On July 27 and 28, the Bossov Ballet Theater will present Cinderella, and on August 11, the folk-rock band Cowboy Junkies will play. From July 30 to August 18, there will be three week-long theater camps for children entering grades 1-8.

On September 12, singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform, and ten days later, the Colby Faculty Jazz Ensemble and guest artists will present a free tribute to Herbie Hancock. In October, the perennially popular Inland Hospital Fall Pops Concert will return, and just two days after the November election, the singing satirists The Capitol Steps will entertain. Also in November, the theater will present two musicals: Jekyll & Hyde and Scrooge!

To get more information about any of these and other performances and learn about still more Opera House events, you may visit www.operahouse.com or call 873-7000.

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