Vergennes Opera House thriving in 20th year of revival
VERGENNES — On Feb. 14 the Vergennes City Council heard an upbeat report from Friends of the Vergennes Opera House President Gerianne Smart about the financial and artistic health of the historic theater. The VOH has several big shows lined up for the coming months and is planning now for its 20th season since reopening in 1997 upstairs in the 120-year-old Vergennes City Hall.
“It’s been a wonderful 20 years, I’ve got to say,” Smart told the council.
Smart emphasized the prominent role the opera house has come to play in Vergennes in the past two decades, and the support it has both earned from and given to the Vergennes-area community.
For example, she said on March 4 the theater will host its annual “Carnevale” fundraising event, which now shares proceeds among the theater itself, the Vergennes Partnership and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.
In 2016, Carnevale alone netted $21,000 to split among the three nonprofits, an amount she compared to the still impressive $15,000 raised at about the same time by Burlington’s annual Mardi Gras parade.
Smart, one of the prime movers in the theater’s original revival in the 1990s, praised area residents’ support as well as the theater’s role.
“I just want to let you know the kind of community you are part of,” she said.
The Vergennes Opera House also has a high profile around the state among performing artists, Smart said, pointing to the fact that the popular Vermont band Bluegrass Gospel Project chose the theater for its farewell concert on March 11 — an already sold-out event.
“That’s also a tribute to this community and that beautiful space,” she said.
The VOH had its grand re-opening on July 7, 1997. It had a few events that year by Smart said programing really got under way in 1998, which marked their first real season of shows.
“We start up our 20th season this coming fall,” she told the Independent. “We will have some of the usual events people have come to expect, like “Broadway Direct,” but we are opening the season on Oct. 7 with Downtown Bob Stannard and those Dangerous Bluesmen, and special guests, then on Oct. 10 we are welcoming back comedian Red Green.”
At the City Council meeting, Smart also noted the theater has raised and spent almost $190,000 on improvements to the building and theater since 2013. Of that, she said, about $120,000 was spent on a sprinkler system obtained with help from City Manager Mel Hawley that protects the entire structure.
Other upgrades include the repairs to and reinstallation of the standing outside marquee, improved stage lighting and sound, the renovation of the former ticket booth space downstairs into office space and the former upstairs office into a custodial closet, and restoration of woodwork and flooring.
“We constantly improve it,” Smart said. “We pay attention.”
The work to make the theater thrive also contributes to the city’s economic health, something Smart described as a central mission for the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House.
“We’ve done a lot of great work there,” Smart said. “It’s why we run this place. We want to bring people to this community.”
Smart said the theater organization now shares office space downstairs with the Vergennes Partnership, a situation she said has allowed the two nonprofits to better cooperate on economic development and artistic projects.
She concluded by presenting the council with a Daily Chocolate gift basket containing chocolates embossed with an imprint of City Hall and the Vergennes Opera House, a gift intended to thank council members over the years for their support for the theater.
“I do want to thank you for having faith in the process we started 20 years ago,” Smart said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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