Waterville Opera House: A community institution
“I think a community that doesn’t have a strong and flourishing art presence is lacking in a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The creative spirit just doesn’t have a place to express itself,” Diane Bryan, director of the Waterville Opera House, said. The Opera House, which shares a building with the City Hall, has been a fixture in Waterville for 108 years. According to Bryan, it “makes our community alive.”
The Opera House serves dual functions in the community. Not only does it provide a venue for live performance and entertainment, but it also provides the town with important economic benefits. “It is where people in the community gather for major events: political events, celebrations, concerts, and theatre. It also drives the economy downtown…[which] is incredibly busy any time there is a show going on,” Bryan said.
In addition to the Opera House’s importance in the community, it has served an important function for the College’s performance arts ventures. The College is a sponsor of the venue, and Colby’s annual Battle of the Bands competition is hosted at the Opera House.
In the past, the Opera House has been the home to the college’s a capella performances on Parents’ Weekend. According to Bryan “they always packed the stage and the parents were always so complimentary.” Students, faculty, and staff have also performed on the Opera House stage or have worked behind the scenes in the many productions of musicals and plays.
Geri Morris ’11, an intern at the Opera House, works to promote its shows. “Right now my main job is marketing, so I’ve been updating their Facebook page and putting out newsletters,” Morris said. The Opera House is currently featuring a production of Oliver!, based on the classic Charles Dickens novel. According to a post on the Opera House’s Facebook page, Oliver!, which runs from October 15-24, “will engage you with its drama, while delighting everyone with its outstanding musical numbers.”
While Oliver! draws talent from both Waterville and neighboring towns, the College’s contribution to the musical is also impressive. Ten college students, faculty, and staff members are part of the cast and crew. Among them is Preston Kavanagh ’11, who plays the role of the main antagonist, Bill Sykes.
Jonathan Mastro, a Teaching Artist in the Theatre and Dance department at the College, is the Musical Director of the show. Mastro’s position requires him to do much more than ensure that the cast knows the music. “I look at the music as a dramatic tactic. People sing in musicals to get what they need in a scene in the same way that they might shout or whisper or slap somebody or kiss somebody,” Mastro said.
Mastro also plays the piano and conducts the orchestra for the musical, a combination that can prove to be complicated. “It’s a mix between conducting with my hands when I’m not playing the piano and conducting with my head when my hands are not available,” Mastro said. Despite the difficulties in multitasking, Mastro is very pleased with the orchestra pit of 13 musicians. “We are using professional musicians which I’m excited about. It is the first time that the Waterville Opera House is choosing to hire professionals and I’m very proud of that decision. I think it’s going to go a long way in making the House more of a destination,” Mastro said.
In order to continue the tradition of high caliber entertainment, the Opera House will undergo a nine-month renovation beginning in March 2011 that, according to Bryan, will bring “a grand space back to its former beauty.” The restoration project is funded through $2 million dollars raised by the Opera House, and a generous $2 million dollar challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. The renovation is necessary for “safety, egress, and ease of access,” Bryan said.
“The seats in the upper balcony were, we think, probably some of the original seats…The floor is uneven, lighting is poor, and the ability to get people in and out of the Opera House quickly and safely is based on old standards and not modern standards,” Bryan said. In addition, the renovation will allow the Opera House to operate at a high level. According to Bryan, the changes that the renovation will bring are “essential for us to compete and bring in quality programming for the community.”
Despite the current economic climate, many Waterville residents and businesses support the historic landmark and eagerly anticipate the opening of the refurbished Opera House in the early part of 2012.
“Everyone is struggling but they all want to be part of what we’re doing and no one wants the Opera House to take a step back and not be available to their children and themselves,” Bryan said. “They want to be part of the excitement and they want to make sure the Opera House is here for at least another 50 or 100 years for the next few generations to take part in.”