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Cheboygan‘s Opera House

Carina Hume - June 9th, 2008
Forget contemporary and cold. The Cheboygan Opera House’s charm is in its historic Victorian design, with roots going back to 1877. With red velvet drapes, three concentric arches, velour seats and exceptional acoustics, patrons can experience the grandeur of the past.
Rebuilt twice in the past 129 years, the Opera House is Cheboygan’s most enduring and cherished treasure. One of the last venues in the region offering balcony seating, the theater seats nearly 600 and is handicapped accessible. A solid schedule of upcoming events–close to 60 performances are held each year–gives interested theater-goers plenty to choose from.

UPCOMING SHOWS
Traveling and local shows are scheduled for a variety of ages and tastes.
A barbershop chorus performs on June 21, with The Northland Players (Cheboygan’s community theater group since 1971) doing a children’s theater performance June 27-29.
For the summer-loving crowd, “Parrot of the Caribbean: A Tribute to Jimmy Buffet” will be performed on July 5. On July 19, the Legacy Five gospel group comes to town and the student-age Saline Fiddlers take the stage on July 26.
The season also offers something of a sequel for Pam Westover, who is back as as the executive director of the Opera House. “I am their new director, but I was with them back through 1991,” she says.
The Opera House celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1988 under Westover’s previous tenure. Her job is aided by the Cheboygan Area Arts Council, with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

SECOND CHANCES
“The Opera House is over 100 years old,” says Westover of the building that shares space with Cheboygan’s city hall, police and fire departments. “It was originally built that way.”
“It’s kind of had two lives,” she continues. “It was originally built in 1877, and right on this site it was hit by a fire in 1886.”
Rebuilt and reopened in 1888 at the same location, the Opera House flourished for many decades – even though it was hit by fire again in 1903 – before falling into disrepair and closing in the 1960s.
With the help of Cheboygan’s Northland Players, a feasibility study was done in the early 1980s to see if the Opera House could be restored instead of demolished.
“Grants were applied for and the actual reopening was in 1984,” says Westover, noting how beautiful the space was at the time of the renovation.
“A local woman named Cynthia Debolt (with help from CMU Public Radio’s Art Curtis), painted the proscenium arch; she based her design on the old opera house chairs, whose sides were a wrought iron design. Next year will be our 25th anniversary of the reopening.”

ART AT THE STRAITS
With classes offered in visual arts and dance along with theater rentals and art shows, the two organizations – staffed by two full-time and five part-time staffers – promote the arts throughout the entire Straits of Mackinac area.
“A lot of the arts council’s activities are done throughout town as well as in the opera house,” says Westover. “There’s a large amount of arts and education.”
They focus on reaching the core of the community – including retirees and children.
“There has always been a strong impact on local children in the community,” says Westover. “They are the audiences of tomorrow.”
Diversity has allowed the Opera House to remain financially secure for the past 24 years.
“We do a variety of things: grants, performances, rentals,” says Westover. “We had a couple of people married in here; my daughter had her wedding reception here on the stage.”
Membership donations and traveling shows supplement the facility’s income, while volunteers fill in any gaps in service areas.
With summer’s lazy days just around the corner, the Opera House is welcoming area residents and visitors to stop by and see what they have to offer.
“We hope [people] will come down and see us,” says Westover. “If it’s during the summer, we can hopefully offer a tour. Come and see the theater and see what a lovely space it is.”

For more information on the
Cheboygan Opera House or to
order performance tickets, please
call 1-800-357-9408 or visit
www.theoperahouse.org.

 
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