WATERVILLE — When the Waterville Opera House opened on June 23, 1902, patrons were so eager to attend the dedication ceremony that they filled the 925-seat theater, lobby and stairs and spilled out onto Castonguay Square.

Over the ensuing years, the grand theater on the second floor of City Hall would become a gathering place for all kinds of entertainment, including plays and musical performances, ballet, touring shows, community meetings, celebrations, and film.

Thursday, on its 114th birthday, the 800-seat Opera House continues to serve those functions and provides space for children’s theater programs, broadcasts from the National Theatre in London, the Bolshoi Ballet and Metropolitan Opera, and hosts film screenings and receptions for the Maine International Film Festival.

Diane Bryan, executive director of the Opera House for 12 years, is excited about what the future holds.

“The Waterville Opera House has been the gathering place for arts, culture and community for 114 years,” Bryan said Wednesday. “As caretakers, we hope to position the Opera House to shine brightly for at least the next 114 years. We are so grateful that the community has embraced this grand space and that we are part of the exciting resurgence of downtown Waterville.”

Nathan Towne, marketing manager for Waterville Creates!, which promotes arts and culture in the Waterville area, grew up in Waterville and performed as a teenager on the Opera House stage. He said he looks at that stage every day and it gives him a sense of hope and pride — “pride in what Waterville has managed to keep alive and vital over the last 20 years of change, as well as hope that what we are building here together in Waterville as part of the revitalization process will continue to delight and inspire future generations to greatness.”

“There is nary a Waterville citizen with more birthdays on records than the Waterville Opera House — a true gem of our historic downtown and cultural anchor for Waterville,” he said. “Not only has the Waterville Opera House survived during some very challenging times, it has thrived, thanks to the support of our community and an amazingly dedicated staff.”

The Opera House was designed by George Adams, an architect who came to Waterville from Massachusetts in the late 1890s, according to Emilienne Ouellette, the Opera House box office manager, who also serves as its unofficial historian.

“It was the only building that Adams designed in Maine; the rest of his buildings were located in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont,” she said.

With an annual operating budget of more than $500,000, the Opera House in 2012 underwent a $5 million renovation project that was supported by a challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

Towne said the Opera House is introducing new programs as part of ramping up efforts to draw more young people.

For instance, at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 2, it will feature Waterville Opera House Presents, a new multimedia concert experience that will also present shows in August and September. Chris Cote, the Opera House’s new programming and production coordinator, is responsible for scheduling the show, in which the Opera House partners with The Great North, a music and arts festival.

Towne calls it a “breathtaking mix of light, sound and art.” Viral Sound, Chromatropic and Merther will be featured, as well as a live painting by Ryan Kohler and Douglas Lakota, according to Towne. Little Village, a visual production collective, will do projections, and the concert will be recorded. Those who buy tickets to the show agree to allow their likeness to be used in still and video imagery.

Towne said it will be a laser light show, with video mapping, a facade on the outside of the stage and objects wrapped in lights.

“It’s very experiential,” he said.

Also new is a free outdoor summer concert series to be held in July and August in Castonguay Square that will include music sets targeted toward various age groups. The Opera House is the financial sponsor of the series, according to Towne. Performances will be announced.

The Opera House will celebrate its birthday Thursday with cake and ice cream at a small gathering of staff and board members from both the Opera House and Waterville Creates!, according to Towne.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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