WATERVILLE — Six years after a nearly $5 million renovation at the Waterville Opera House, ticket sales are up and the downtown venue is offering more than 100 shows per year.

“Things have definitely changed,” said Executive Director Tamsen Brooke Warner, who took over in January 2017. “We have more people on staff and we can handle larger, more complex musical theater productions. We used to do only one musical per year, and the last two years we’ve done three each year. We’re really stretching ourselves because they are a lot of work, but it does bring in more people.”

The Opera House, which dates to 1902, re-opened in 2012 after a one-year hiatus to complete a massive $4.9 million renovation project that included new balcony seating, new flooring, restored woodwork and the installation of new technical equipment.

Capacity at the Opera House decreased slightly — from around 900 seats to 810 — but ticket sales are up, according to Warner.

Today, yearly attendance ranges from around 26,000 to 30,000 per year compared to 20,000 to 25,000 before the renovations.

That doesn’t include free events or the Maine International Film Festival, which typically brings about 5,000 people to the Opera House each year.


Among the improvements are the addition of a set shop where scenery can be built, freeing up space on stage for more performance days per year, and new lighting equipment.

The renovations, funded in part by a $2.3 million donation from the Alfond Foundation, as well as other grants and donations, also included much-needed upgrades to stage and dressing rooms, which are now handicapped accessible.

Hector Fuentes, who manages the nearby Cancun Mexican Bar & Grill, said he noticed a loss of business when the Opera House closed for one year for the renovations.

“When they were closed, there was nothing interesting to bring people downtown,” Fuentes said. “Now, since they’ve done the renovations, there are more people in town, more shows and more business downtown.”

And with more development in the works downtown, including a plan to invest $18 million to $20 million to transform The Center into an arts and film center, Warner said she is optimistic about the continued growth of the Opera House.

“I’m really excited about the dorm being built, and I’m hoping (Colby College) students that are interested in being engaged downtown will want to either become volunteers, performers or patrons,” she said. “I’m also excited about the renovation of The Center and turning it into an arts-focused building with the potential for Railroad Square Cinema to move in. We collaborate with them frequently, so I think it will really make events like the Maine International Film Festival feel like an exciting time downtown.”


As a nonprofit, the Opera House remains largely funded by sponsorships and donations in addition to ticket sales, but Warner said that post-renovations they are “in a much better place.”

“We had a really great year last year with a couple of sold out shows,” she said. “I think we’re expanding our offerings into new music genres and reaching people who have never been here before.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368


Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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