This summer, Margaret “Gretty” Hollister ’20, Austin Jennings ’19 and Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth are investigating the history of downtown Geneva’s Smith Opera House. In Hollister and Jennings’ roles as research assistants, the pair promotes the landmark 125th anniversary of the historic theatre by sharing their findings through guided tours of the facility.
The research project is increasing the community-wide knowledge of the Smith Opera House’s rich history, unique architecture and ongoing influence over Geneva’s ever-changing culture and people. So far, Hollister and Jennings have assisted Woodworth in organizing the organization’s archives and gathering new research for weekly tours, which take participants through the Smith for an immersive, interactive experience.
Funded by HWS, the summer research program has allowed Hollister and Jennings to partake in unique learning activities in Geneva and across the Finger Lakes Region. To prepare for their work at the Smith, Hollister and Jennings took walking tours of former theatre and movie hall sites, examined old newspaper clippings and correspondence, and observed rare historical items, including the 1894 plans for the Smith Opera House and documents handled by William Smith himself.
Hollister, a double major in Theatre and French and Francophone studies, is interested in the Smith’s early history and architecture. “My research until now has focused predominately on the architecture of movie palaces, the rise of the Art Deco style in the 1920s, and the different architectural styles that come together in the Smith,” she says.
Hollister is pursuing a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification, and will spend the fall semester in France, where she intends to explore French theatre and culture and hopes to one day live and teach.
Having recently returned from a semester abroad in Italy, Jennings seized the opportunity to immerse himself in Geneva’s cultural history. His research focuses on the acoustics of the Smith, as well as the various renovations that have taken place in the building since its near destruction in the late 1970s.
Artist, scholar and educator of theatre Woodworth, who grew up in Geneva, is leading the historical study in hopes of preserving the Smith’s prominence as a cultural landmark in the community. “This is a multi-use facility, it started as a venue for live performance and transitioned into a movie palace,” she says. “But anybody who has lived in Geneva for any period of time knows that this is a place where their families have had memorable threshold moments.”
Tours of the Smith Opera House are free and open to the public every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. throughout July and August. For more information, visit the Smith Center for the Arts website.