With a milestone like a 125th anniversary, it’s only fitting that the volume gets turned up. According to Scot PJ MacDonald, Executive Business Director at Memorial Opera House, that’s exactly what’s happening at the iconic theater as it continues to celebrate its 125th Anniversary of existence and its profound impact on the region.
Since the 2018 season began, Memorial Opera House and its team of faithful volunteers have found clever ways to pay homage to the milestone with the community while also promoting their current productions. For instance, the theater hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony in February to celebrate its grand reopening and future following threats of closure, which the community ultimately rallied against. During its recent run of Legally Blonde, The Musical, the theater hosted a fashion show featuring local lawyers as models. The Memorial Opera House team has even more fun planned for its next couple of productions.
Currently, Memorial Opera House is in rehearsal for Sweeney Todd, a cult classic of a show that has received a lot more exposure in recent years due to revivals and movie adaptations. MacDonald said that all these factors contributed to producing the show, but there was a particular reason it fell in this fateful season.
“With it being our 125th year, we were looking for small ways throughout the season to pay homage to our past, present, and future. Sweeney is a show we did in our past that was super successful,” MacDonald said. “It just seemed like the time was right to bring her back.”
MacDonald and co. are excited to share the show with the public because of its importance to the Opera House and because of the level of quality performances already exhibited in the rehearsal process.
“We’ve got 20 people in the cast and they’re absolutely incredible. They’re in their third week of rehearsal, and this thing is moving like a freight train,” MacDonald said. “The people that are in the cast are such strong musicians that it has just been a great learning process for everybody.”
In the spirit of on-brand public engagement, MacDonald and his team are cooking up a Bloody Bar Crawl.
“Kind of like how Aster + Gray did the Mimosa Crawl, we’re working with restaurants, bars, and stores downtown to create a similar walking experience where people can have a Bloody Mary, shop, and some restaurants will do their best sweet or savory pie, so it ties right in to the theme of the show,” MacDonald said.
As of now, the Bloody Bar Crawl is forecasted to fall on October 6.
“It’s a great thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. Go to a bunch of different stores, drink some Bloody Marys, eat some pie, and shop? I mean, come on!” MacDonald laughed. “And with the variety in downtown Valpo, you can’t ask for anything better!”
Following Sweeney Todd, the Memorial Opera House is producing It’s a Wonderful Life.
“We’re going from one end of the spectrum to the other,” MacDonald joked.
What makes It’s a Wonderful Life special is the fact that Beulah Bondi, who played Ma Bailey in the movie, debuted her acting chops on the Memorial Opera House stage in 1907. Another perfect tie-in for the theater’s 125th Anniversary. Last year, the Opera House developed a special volunteer award in Bondi’s name, the Beulah Bondi Spirit of Memorial Opera House Award, which will be presented again this year.
In November, Memorial Opera House is partnering with the Porter County Museum to host History After 5, a special event honoring the buildings’ singular history.
“We’re going to be celebrating the Opera House and the museum’s past, present, and future,” MacDonald said. “What was it like here on Indiana Avenue before the Opera House even existed? I don’t think a lot of people even know about the importance of this building and how much culture this building has brought to our little block.”
The evening will shine a spotlight on current volunteers and the community as a whole.
“Our members did everything they could to make sure this building didn’t get torn down,” MacDonald said. “This place was built and stands on the backs of volunteers, and we definitely want to recognize that.”
As for the future?
“We will be sharing our 2019 season, but we also won a grant last year from the Department of Natural Resources to have a feasibility assessment done on our building,” MacDonald said. “That study’s just been finalized, so we’ll be able to share those results with the public so they have an idea of what’s coming down the line as far as preservation and restoration of the opera house, and even potential expansion in the future.”
MacDonald doesn’t see a slow-down any time soon.
“It’s kind of this new dawn for us,” he said. “I feel like organizations such as ours are constantly going through that cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We’re certainly in the rebirth phase right now, and I don’t see a downside any time in the near future.”
The History After 5 event is forecasted to fall on November 1. This don’t-miss event will include cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a comprehensive look at the history of Memorial Opera House. And there’s plenty worth celebrating.
“I have such an amazing team with my staff, and there is such a wonderful support network here, between our county commissioners, our colleagues at the museum, the town council, and of course, our wonderful volunteers and subscribers. I just feel incredibly lucky to be a small cog in the wheel,” MacDonald said. “I go home every day feeling so uplifted by what we do, because I know that we’re living the mission that was planned for this building, 125 years later. And that’s really cool.”
The Memorial Opera House still has plenty of opportunities to join in the 125th Anniversary celebration: