February 17th, 2024

Fairmont Opera House needs your story

Tell your story - Fairmont Opera House

ABOVE: A view of the stage from the Fairmont Opera House balcony. The Fairmont Opera House requires extensive work and before launching a capital campaign, staff and board members have put out a survey to collect critical data from the community.

“The biggest way that any person who has interacted with us can help is to share their story with us,” Langwith said.

Sentinel – Local News

BROOKE WOHLRABE

Editor/Publisher

Fairmontsentinel.com

link to original article

FAIRMONT– In an effort to receive both input and stories of personal impact from the community, The Fairmont Opera House has put out an online survey. The historic landmark is seeking the data ahead of launching a capital campaign for its current roof repair project.

Back in October 2023, the Opera House announced that it would switch to limited in-facility operations while necessary repairs were made to its roof. Then in early December, after structural engineers came in, it was discovered that more invasive work was required and the Opera House would be closed to the public for at least all of 2024 while the structural repairs were made.

By late December 2023, all of the trusses–which are holding up the Fairmont Opera House’s roof– were installed. Since then, the theater has remained largely vacated, save for the rows and stacks of scaffolding, plastic wrap and other protective equipment while staff and board members seek funds for the needed repairs.

Executive Director Blake Potthoff said that since then they have been engaged in planning the capital campaign and figuring out how to best communicate to the community the extent of and importance of the repairs.

We’re trying to think through it as much as possible which is why we sent out the feasibility survey to ask the community what its opinions of the Opera House are and whether it knows about the project and how it would like to help,” Potthoff said.

The survey was sent out in late January to a large list of people in the Opera House’s database who have either attended, performed at or volunteered at an Opera House event. The organization has also posted the survey on its website and social media pages.

So far we’ve gotten almost 350 responses,” said Administrative Assistant, Katelyn Langwith.

Information collected from the survey will help build out what the capital campaign should look like as stakeholders figure out what community members care most about and would like to see.

The survey asks questions such as what people like best about the Opera House, what they would like to see more of, how likely they are to support it and what stories they have about it– the latter of which is something Opera House staff is most interested in.

I think it’s highly important because the Opera House isn’t just a building– it’s everyone who’s had the history within it. In order for us to make a case to larger funders, we have to have this community’s why. Why they like the Opera House and keep coming back, why they don’t want to see it demolished. Those stories are imperative to actually receiving the funds we need,” Langwith said.

Potthoff added that he feels the same way about the Opera House now as he has for all eight years of running it– that it doesn’t belong to him, or staff or the board– but to the community.

Getting the community’s input about what it wants to see and happen really helps determine what we do,” Potthoff said.

He said they want to know what type of entertainment people would like to see, whether it be a niche performance or more community theater shows.

We want to make sure that this building becomes something the community has ownership in,” Langwith said.

Potthoff said that he has found that the Opera House is really a reflection of the community, saying, “it’s 122 years of Fairmont history.”

While support from the local community is both crucial and important, the Opera House is reaching beyond that and looking for funds from a variety of sources. Potthoff said they’re seeking federal and state dollars and have applied for grants all over the country.

We have to convince them that when they hear the stories of the people in our community, they see a reflection of the people in their community and that it’s worth saving maybe a theater in their community as well,” Potthoff said.

Some of his favorite responses and stories from the survey thus far include: “I live 50 miles away but I enjoy a trip over every once in a while to attend performances,” “my children were always involved in theater and enjoyed performing,” and “my daughter has danced on the stage of the Opera House since she was three years old. She’s now 15 and I would love nothing more than to ensure her that her senior solo would be done on the same stage.”

That’s the power and possibility that we have. There’s kids and people of all ages who have experiences and memories here and I wouldn’t know that unless we ask the questions. We want to ask the questions to help tell the stories,” Potthoff said.

In addition to putting on its own events and shows, the Opera House has traditionally opened up its space for the greater community to hold events there. Dancin’ Plus holds its annual recital there and area high schools Martin Luther and Granada-Huntley-East Chain use the stage for their plays and musicals.

We’ve had weddings here and birthday parties and grooms dinners. It’s really a place that’s for more than performing arts. It’s where personal memories are made,” Langwith said.

Potthoff added that the Opera House in the past has been able to put on holiday events including a Shamrock Shindig, Holiday Hoopla and Spooktacular thanks to local sponsorships, which has brought opportunity for more free, fun family events in the community.

While the Opera House has put its programming on hold for the most part while it plans its capital campaign, it is still going ahead with a few programs, including its community theater shows. Potthoff said that they will offer youth theater camps for both children K-2 and 3-12 as well as the annual adult Fairmont Area Community Theater (FACT) summer show. To make these possible, the Opera House is relying on community partners.

Potthoff said that there are many reasons to keep up with community theater shows. Not only is it required by some of the grants the Opera House has in place, but it is also a high-impact and high-engagement program and one of the highest-attended shows at the Fairmont Opera House.

The survey closes in a week and both Potthoff and Langwith urge everyone in the community to take it, even if they don’t feel like their input is valuable.

The biggest way that any person who has interacted with us can help is to share their story with us,” Langwith said.

Potthoff said they want to collect the stories not only for the capital campaign, but for keeping the history of the Fairmont Opera House and its importance in the community.

Later this spring the Opera House is planning on bringing people into the facility so they can see first-hand what the current state of the facility is.

It’s so different to see and it feels heavy. It’s not to guilt them into giving money, but because we all love this place and have memories here and believe it’s worthwhile to keep the facility that’s a vehicle for those memories,” Potthoff said.

Then in the summer, likely in July, the Fairmont Opera House will launch its capital campaign.

However, before that, Langwith said that they are still open to donations of any size and that early giving is open and that there is a link to it on the Fairmont Opera House’s website.

We still have to pay for utilities, heat, water, payroll and all expenses we would need. We have a decrease in programming but we still need money to just exist and do the work to get to the capital campaign,” Potthoff said

If you have a story to tell, please reach out to us at info@fairmontoperahouse.org

Other questions you might have:

To learn more about our work here at Fairmont Opera House or share your own story with us, click the links below!

How you can help!

The Fairmont Opera House needs your support to repair its roof truss system and preserve our historic facility.  We ask that you give generously to ensure that our institution remains able to provide cultural experiences for generations to come.

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