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Celebrate The Smith: An Immersive Theatre Event Oct. 20-26, 2019

2019 is a special year for the Smith Opera House. It is the 125th anniversary of this historic theatre. To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, we are skipping our traditional Finger Lakes Photo/Plays event to instead create an epic, immersive theatre event that will bring the history of this building to life in a unique and thrilling fashion. And we want YOU to be part of this historic event.

Please consider this email your official Save-the-Date for our Celebrate THE Smith event, which will take place October 20-26, 2019.  As you may know from previously participating in, attending, or hearing about Finger Lakes Photo/Plays, we customarily create a series of original plays that are all inspired by the same photograph by an accomplished local photographer. This year, we are making a bigger and bolder event! Here are the twists:

  • Instead of creating all of this new work in just over 24 hours, participants will have ONE WEEK to create an original short performance piece!
  • Instead of a photograph, each group will receive their own ARTIFACT about an event or person connected to The Smith and a brief history surrounding that artifact!
  • Instead of all of us performing on the opera house stage, the performances will take place ALL OVER THE BUILDING!

For Photo/Plays we rehearsed all over the place (mezzanine, cabaret, ladies lounge, lobby, balcony, dance studio….)? Now imagine the audience roaming to those spots to watch your site-specific performance! Imagine finding exciting ways to connect one performance to the next, to lead the audience from one location to another! Imagine ending the night with dancing!

The inspiration: Each group will receive a different artifact and a brief history surrounding it. Each group will also be assigned a specific space in The Smith where they will perform.

The players: Finger Lakes community members! Would you like to make some new friends and some new art? Have you been itching to get involved in theatre but know how much time it takes so you’ve resisted? Are you a seasoned theatre veteran who has wanted to flex your artistic muscles in a new way? Are you brand new to “the boards” and looking for a low stakes way to get involved in performance? Are you staying put in the audience and just want to come out and support us? Then there is a role for YOU in Celebrate THE Smith!

Participants will sign up for one of these roles to be placed on a team:

  • The Writer—These folks will take the artifact and history home on Sunday evening, lock themselves in their garret with their quills and candles and craft a short play (5-6 minutes or so), bearing in mind the actors in their group as well as their assigned location.
  • The Director—On Tuesday afternoon, the Writers hand their scripts to their Directors who spend the late afternoon figuring out their directorial concept for the play (in other words, how do you take these words and bring them to life in their assigned location?). Then, the Director goes into rehearsal with the actors.
  • The Actors—How fast can you get into character? You’ll get that script Tuesday evening and be taking your curtain call Saturday night! (Don’t worry, these are SHORT plays, you can do it!)
  • The Stage Managers—Are you super organized and patient? Would you like to be involved on the logistical end of things, helping directors track down simple props and costume pieces and helping with sound cues and scene changes?
  • The Hosts—Would you like to get involved but can only participate one day or would you like to perform as well as write but can’t make all the rehearsals? Would you like to help guide small groups of audience members from place to place so they see all of the performances?

The Timeline: One week of theatrical commotion culminating in a public, site-specific, immersive performance for the local community to celebrate the 125th anniversary of The Smith Opera House.

  • Sunday October 20, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.: The Reveal —We will gather in the Smith Opera House. You’ll meet your team, find out where you are performing, and get the first glimpse of your artifact and its history. Each writer will borrow a copy of the artifact and history to use as inspiration while they write.
  • Sunday night through Tuesday—Writers write while the rest of us slumber and go about our days…
  • Tuesday October 22, at 5:00 p.m.—Writers hand their scripts over to the directors
  • Tuesday, early evening—Directors devise their approach to the script and bring in their actors
  • Tuesday evening through Thursday evening (6:00 p.m.—10:00 p.m.)—Rehearsal with directors, actors, and stage managers throughout the Smith Opera House or on the HWS campus [TBA]
  • Friday October 25, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.—Dress rehearsal for all participants. This will be your chance to situate your performance within your assigned space.
  • Saturday October 26, 2019 at 1:00 p.m.—Opening (and closing!) Night! We’ll reconvene for a final Dress Rehearsal and Preview in the afternoon. Participants will wander through the building and see everyone’s performance! We will take a brief dinner break and then return for an evening performance for the public. The performance will be open to the public [ticket info TBA].

The history of the Smith Opera House is vibrant, eclectic, and full of drama—on and off stage.

  • Did you know that when it was constructed it was originally two buildings?
  • Did you know that boxing matches were held in the theatre in the early 20th century?
  • Did you know that a theatre company that was slated to perform at the Smith was once quarantined on a boat in the middle of Seneca Lake because of a smallpox scare?
  • Did you know that William Smith, the principle benefactor of the building, wanted the third floor dedicated to speaking to the deceased?

Perhaps some of this history will make its way into YOUR performances! If you are excited about the history, you can check our Smith History Blog weekly ( Two of my students and I (plus a few guest bloggers here and there), have been researching the history of this building and we’ve found some incredible stories!  Starting again on May 1, we will also offer weekly history tours of the building, every Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. So if you are already eager to learn more about the building and its raucous past, please join us!

Sign me up! Interested in getting involved? Then fill out our online form by Friday October 11, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. Please note: Participation is limited to those 18 and older.

Questions? Email Chris Woodworth, at or

Hope to see you all in October!