Community Supports the Growth and Longevity of the Memorial Opera House

Community Supports the Growth and Longevity of the Memorial Opera House

The Memorial Opera House has stood the test of time and is one of Valparaiso’s proudest achievements. Known and loved by many in the region, the Opera House is finally getting some much needed upgrades that will exponentially accentuate the experience of theatre-goers.

“We have been getting little bits of a big project done, one piece at a time,” LuAnne Pezel, Business Director for the Memorial Opera House said.

Noticeable differences are already there. The vacant upstairs space was converted into the posh Klemz Lounge with new hardwood floors, new paint, and a bar. This lounge will serve as an ideal space for patrons to hang out before shows and during intermissions. Newly added events in the Memorial Opera House Unplugged series will take place here, in an intimate and inviting setting.

Heading downstairs to the main lobby, another new bar sits. This one is much larger and will have a granite top when renovations are complete. The Opera House purchased ice machines by each bar and they are looking into installing a POS system that accepts credit and debit cards as well as Apple iPay.

Other additions and upgrades to the Opera House include an airbrush system to apply stage makeup quicker and easier, revamping the utility room, and the installation of large projection screens in the stage area. These screens can be 10 feet wide or span the entire width of the stage. This will help reduce the amount of time and labor in building sets and moving them between scenes.

MOH-Renovations-2016 1"We've gotten rave reviews about the new screens," Pezel said. "They are vibrant, appealing, and make things a lot easier on us and our crew."

Plans to renovate the front lobby to make more room for guests are in the works. The plan is to re-purpose the box office so that space will be open for guests. This way no one will have to wait outside before a show or during intermission. 

“All of the funds that we used for upgrades and renovations came from the Memorial Opera House Foundation, grants, and the generosity of community members,” Scot MacDonald, Artistic Director of the Memorial Opera House said.

The Memorial Opera House Foundation was revived a few years ago by Laura Shurr Blaney. The Opera House was struggling when she became the Porter County Commissioner, and she along with other community members sought to preserve the growth of the Opera House.

"The Memorial Opera House is one of Porter County's finest jewels," Blaney said. "Where else can you experience the arts, a fantastic sense of community, and a connection to our history? Quality of life is very important to me and the Opera House upgrades are all about improving quality of life."

Kaye Frataccia, a Valparaiso native, is also a member of the Foundation Board of Directors with longstanding ties to the Opera House.

MOH-Renovations-2016 2“I have been a member of the Memorial Opera House Foundation Board for a little over a year, but my husband and I have been involved with the Opera House on and off for about 20 years,” Frataccia said. “We initially got involved in the 1990's with a committee to celebrate the Opera House and renovate the facility. Lots of structural work was done at that time, the beautiful mural was painted on the ceiling, etc. The Memorial Opera House is a historical landmark. It is an asset in our community. It holds memories of Civil War times. I feel it is important to preserve it for its historic value. I also feel it is important to support the arts in our community. We have wonderful, dedicated performers who both entertain us and offer learning opportunities for our youth to get involved in the arts."

Jacki Stutzman, President of the Board of Directors for the Memorial Opera House, also has fond memories and deep roots at the Opera House.

“I think it's very exciting that upgrades are being done. The Opera House has been overlooked for so long and we have good community people on the Board who are working hard. We need the Opera House to be recognized as a vital part of our community,” Stutzman said. “It's a really wonderful asset in our community. I remember doing recitals there when I was little. When Laura was putting the foundation back together I got back into the theatre. I loved the building and what the foundation was able to do for the Opera House.”

Funds given to the Opera House go a long way and are used for more than just physical upgrades. Recently, the Opera received a grant from the Porter County Community Foundation to promote the “theatre for a new audience”. The grant is being used for special performances of shows (most recently: A Christmas Carol) and tickets are distributed free of charge to families who may never have had the opportunity to see a live theatre performance.

“As I said, I see the Memorial Opera House as a fine asset to the community. I hope to see it included in a significant way when the new arts corridor is developed,” Frataccia said.