Hobart and William Smith Colleges are joining the community to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Smith Opera House, the historic structure built through the generosity of college founder William Smith.
Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth has been preparing for the Saturday, Oct. 26 performance of Celebrate the Smith: An Immersive Theatre Event since last year when she and her student assistants, Margaret “Gretty” Hollister ’20 and Austin Jennings ’19, began researching the history of the historic structure. A Geneva native who made her own debut on the Smith stage at the age of five, Woodworth and her team found a trove of information that was “vibrant, eclectic and full of drama—on and off stage,” she says.
Much of that history can found in a blog created by Woodworth, Hollister and Jennings that highlights many of the Smith’s historical milestones, from an 1894 performance on stage by 24 horses that “ring bells, play school and hold justice’s court” to concerts by musicians as diverse as Bruce Springsteen and Jane Siberry.
“Everything we found was exciting, whether it was pictures at the Geneva Historical Society or one of William Smith’s automatic writing ledgers in the HWS archives,” says Hollister, who posts weekly updates on the blog and will participate in the October 26 event.
That history plays a vital role in the October performance. Participating playwrights will be given an historical artifact uncovered by Woodworth and her researchers one week prior and instructed to create a short, five- to six-minute play that centers on the artifact’s story. Each short play will be given to a director and actors who will have five days to rehearse.
On the night of the performance, the multiple short plays will be presented non-stop in various locations in the Smith: the mezzanine, lobby, balcony, ladies lounge, etc., while hosts escort viewers from one play to another throughout the evening. “We’re creating an epic, immersive theatre event that will bring the history of the building to life in a unique and thrilling fashion,” says Woodworth.
Woodworth says that members of the HWS community have signed on to participate in the theatrical celebration, and others have been involved throughout the past year, such as Assistant Professor of Media and Society Rebecca Burditt, who curated a film series for the Smith Opera House. Woodworth will continue to offer weekly anniversary-oriented tours of the building every Wednesday at 10 a.m. until Oct. 30.
“While the historic Smith Opera House is a venue where fascinating stories unfold via film and the performing arts, the building itself has its own compelling stories that have shaped the people and culture of Geneva and the Finger Lakes region since 1894,” she says.
For tickets to the show, visit the Smith Opera House website.