Rick Davis has served as the executive director of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House since 2005. Although the Opera House hasn’t had any events since the pandemic began, they’re as busy as ever, getting ready for when things do return.
Two years ago, the village of Fredonia received a $2.5 million grant, of which $1.3 was for the Opera House’s remodeling. Davis called the timing of the pandemic “fortuitous,” noting that they’ve been able to use their downtime to completely gut and remodel the bathrooms, replace the windows and do some heating, ventilation and air conditioning work.
They’ve also been working with the State Historic Preservation Office to design two digital marquee signs that will advertise shows and events taking place in the Opera House. “SHIPO was very careful in approving designs that take our historic nature into account,” Davis explained.
The signs are expected to be installed in January.
The Opera House was also awarded a grant from the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation to purchase and install high quality live streaming equipment. This will allow patrons to view Opera House events from their homes, should capacity of an event be restricted.
The first event on tap is a performance by Chautauqua Brass. This quartet is tentatively scheduled to perform on March 26. Davis doesn’t know yet if the state will allow the performance to take place, but should it be allowed with a limited in-person capacity, they hope to offer the performance virtually as well.
After that is Cane Mill Road, a bluegrass group from North Carolina. They’re tentatively scheduled to perform in person on April 10, as part of the Folk in Fredonia Music Series.
One of the larger events the Opera House holds every June is the Bach and Beyond festival. Last year was scheduled to be their 25th performance. Davis said he is talking with Grant Cooper, the Artistic Director Maestro, about what they want to do in 2021, including scaling the event back or moving the anniversary celebration to another time.
One of the issues, Davis notes, is many of the performers stay in the homes of some of the patrons of the event. “There may be a reluctance for that to happen,” he said.
The state has not been very specific on when venues like the 1891 Fredonia Opera House can reopen. The governor has stated movie theaters can open to no more than 25 percent or 50 people for a screening if counties have COVID-19 positivity rates of less than 2 percent on a 14-day average and do not have any cluster zones. But does that mean live performances would have the same restrictions? Davis said they aren’t sure.
“We’ve put together three budgets — one for an April opening, one for a June opening, and one for a fall opening,” he said.
Meanwhile, Andrew Nixon, Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau president and chief executive officer, said many venues and organizations are trying to figure out what events will be permitted this summer and what people will feel comfortable attending.
“A lot (of planners) are just waiting to see what the environment is and what the public’s tolerance is going to be for traveling,” he said.
Chautauqua Institution, for example, is planning in having people back this summer, but with many events outdoors, with limited capacity.
At this point, Nixon said the Visitor’s Bureau is not printing its glossy travel guide for the county and instead will continue to update their website. So far, few have contacted the Visitor’s Bureau saying they’re definitely having specific events in the new year.
For now, Nixon recommends event planners stay flexible and keep safety first and foremost in their plans. “Look to some of the stuff Chautauqua Institution and the Comedy Center is doing, putting a lot of information in front of the reader, with safety in mind, and go forward cautiously,” he said.
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