SKOWHEGAN — Lyn Govoni believes that one of the most underutilized spaces in Skowhegan is right in the heart of the town.

Many may not even realize it exists, Govoni said. But upstairs in the municipal building on Water Street, the 840-seat Skowhegan Opera House could be a major draw for the town — alongside other efforts to revitalize the local economy.

“The tourism, the increase of culture, and arts, and food, and all of that,” Govoni said. “Why not entertainment, too?”

The 115-year-old venue just needs some work. And a lot of it.

A motorcyclist passes the municipal building Tuesday in Skowhegan. The town’s opera house is located on the top floor of the building. The organization is leasing the space for $1 per year, contingent on making facility upgrades. The 1909 opera house seats 840. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

That is why last year Govoni started Lights Up Productions, a nonprofit that will lease, operate and renovate the space. The organization, which is still in the process of obtaining nonprofit status, began its three-year lease Monday after the Board of Selectmen approved the agreement at its June 25 meeting.

Designed by noted Maine architect John Calvin Stevens and completed in 1909, the opera house once hosted musical artists and other acts from around the country. Booker T. Washington, William Jennings Bryan, and William Howard Taft delivered speeches there, according to the National Register of Historic Places.


But in the last decade or so, as the space has aged and been flagged for safety issues, the venue has largely been limited to local dance company recitals, an annual visit from comedian Bob Marley, and a handful of other events and shows.

Last year, town officials discussed what it would take to get the opera house up and running again, from complying with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act to updating sound and lighting equipment.

Their conclusion: It would likely be too expensive, costing taxpayers upward of $8 million.

A nonprofit like Lights Up Productions can tap into other sources of funding such as grants, said Bryant Cyr, vice president of the organization’s board of directors. The Waterville Opera House, where Cyr works as production manager, is operated through a similar agreement with the nonprofit Waterville Creates.

Lights Up Productions President Lyn Govoni and Bryant Cyr, vice president, walk through the Skowhegan Opera House space Tuesday. The facility is located in the town’s municipal building in Skowhegan. The organization is leasing the space for $1 per year, contingent on making facility upgrades. The 1909 opera house seats 840. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“The lovely thing about being a nonprofit is that we have access to grants and state funding that the town just doesn’t,” Cyr said. “And if we’re willing to put that toward the renovation here, we can drum up those funds a lot faster.”

Plans include additional bathrooms in the lobby area and backstage; a glass-enclosed fire escape; new rigging, lighting and sound equipment; improved dressing rooms; and of course, a curtain, which the stage currently lacks.


The group plans to maintain the historic character of the venue throughout the renovations, Cyr said. It has unique aspects for a space designed for opera, such as a large orchestra pit and footlight channel lighting on the front of the stage.

“We’re not trying to destroy that, by any means,” Cyr said. “We want to keep the aesthetic of this space. But at the same time, we want to bring it up to code, we want to add the ability to do bigger and better shows, and have this space be thriving.”

A rough estimate thrown around in conversation for what initial plans will cost is $2.8 million. But, Govoni said, all things considered, the overall project is going to cost a lot more.

“It’s going to take a lot of money to do that,” Govoni said.

Per the terms of the lease, Lights Up Productions must complete $100,000 of work on the opera house during the three-year period or it will not be eligible to renew the agreement. The organization is set to pay $1 per year to the town in rent for the space.

With nonprofit status still pending, Lights Up Productions still has a long way to go, Govoni said. So far, most of its funding has come from $5,000 awarded by the Skowhegan Center for Entrepreneurship.


Govoni, who started Lights Up Productions after years on the Friends of the Skowhegan Opera House committee of the Wesserunsett Arts Council, won the center’s business lab pitch competition in November. She started Lights Up Productions a few weeks later.

Lyn Govoni, president of Lights Up Productions, walks past the orchestra pit and footlight channel on stage Tuesday at the Skowhegan Opera House located in the town’s municipal building in Skowhegan. Lights Up is leasing the space for $1 per year, contingent on making facility upgrades. The 1909 opera house seats 840. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Once an established nonprofit, which could happen later this year, the organization plans to hire a grant writer, Govoni said. With more funding from grants, rentals and ticket sales, the goal would be to hire an executive director to oversee day-to-day operations by 2025, Cyr said.

Lights Up Productions does not plan to make major changes to what local groups currently pay to use the venue for performances, Cyr said. Bigger acts that the group brings to town would help drive revenue.

Both Cyr and Govoni said that community engagement will be key to the success of the organization. So far, people have said they want to see more concerts, and new events, like a community talent show, Govoni said.

Some in town, though, are skeptical of what Lights Up Productions has planned. A request for funding to be placed on June’s town meeting warrant was rejected by the Board of Selectmen. Last Tuesday’s discussion of the lease agreement also drew concerns from selectmen about the potential financial impact on the town.

“I’m concerned that it’s just going to end up costing taxpayers money,” said Chairman Paul York, the only selectman who voted against the lease agreement. (Steven Govoni, who is married to Lyn Govoni, abstained from the vote.)


“I’m just concerned that, moving forward, that they’re going to ask for money from the town, but yet, if this was to take off, which would be great if it did, they’re the ones that are going to benefit,” York continued.

Lyn Govoni, in response to concerns from town officials, said that she wants to work together.

“Part of our business plan is to work collaboratively with the town,” Govoni said. “I want them to be involved and aware of things that are happening, give their input, give their concerns. We want to be really transparent with everyone.”

Govoni ultimately sees the opera house project tying into others already in process in Skowhegan. The municipal building sits at the end of where the planned Skowhegan River Park would be, Govoni said.

In Waterville, similar efforts to revitalize the opera house — which is slightly smaller than Skowhegan’s — have paid off, Cyr said.

“Waterville Opera House brings in about six to eight events per month, which is not a lot,” Cyr said. “But if you think about that, for six to eight nights, every single month, they bring 800 people downtown to eat at those restaurants, to boost the economy.”

Related Headlines

Join the Conversation

Please sign into your account to participate in conversations below. If you do not have an account, you can register or subscribe. Questions? Please see our FAQs.