The Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater

The Chautauqua Amphitheater — the “Amp” — functions as our community’s most important place for assembly around arts, culture, and worship.  Over its 140-year history, most of the Amp’s parts — except for the Massey Memorial Organ and its house — have been built up, torn down, repaired, replaced, and remodeled.  What we see today is the result of decades of changes, and Chautauqua Institution intends to renew the Amp to meet the community’s needs for the next 100 years.

Plans for a renewed Amp are the subject of much discussion and even debate. To put these plans and the dialogue into perspective, it is important to remember the reasons for an Amp renewal project.

Learn more about the Amp Renewal Project

Chautauqua Institution is holding a series of community engagement sessions on the Amphitheater renewal project. These sessions are designed for listening to concerns and answering questions, and for educating attendees on the current state of the structure, on the history of changes and modifications throughout its 122 years and the Institution’s proposed design.

These sessions run every week throughout the 2015 season:

8–9 a.m. Mondays • Amphitheater
In-person, in-depth tour of current Amphitheater facility, including back-of-house, stage and seating bowl. Meet on the back porch to start the tour. We will end at the library to view a model of the renewed Amp.
8–9 a.m. Wednesdays • Hall of Christ
Session on the history of the Amp — looking at both its structural and programmatic evolution; understand the Amp’s limitations for performers followed by Q-and-A.
8–9:15 a.m. Fridays • Hall of Christ
Weeks One, Three and Five — Community dialogue and input through breakout groups. Weeks Two, Four and Six — dialogue on the Amp design process. Both sessions will end with Q-and-A.

Check the daily schedule in The Chautauquan Daily for the most up-to-date information on the engagement sessions.

Letters on the Amphitheater Project

Reference Materials

Correspondence from Chautauqua Institution:

Goals of the Amphitheater Renewal

The Amphitheater is Chautauqua’s essential place of assembly for arts, culture and worship. Over 140 years, it has been periodically adapted to stand against the wear of time, weather and changing needs.

Goals for this project are:

  • Safety and accessibility: address structural concerns; meet the needs of those who are differently abled or who have physical limitations.
  • Audience respect: from poor sightlines to seating discomfort and bowl access, the Amp does not meet the expectations of our audiences.
  • Artist/presenter respect: the Amp’s backstage and facilities are inadequate for performers and presenters, and the stage/orchestra pit configuration does not support collaborative work.
  • Institutional sustainability: vitality for Chautauqua is dependent upon its ability to provide an evolving array of programs; financial sustainability requires that we increase seating and standing capacity.
  • Commitment to history: renewing the Amp shows respect for its history of place and purpose while continuing the historic adaptation of its structure.
  • Simply stated, an Amphitheater that will meet the community’s needs for the next 100 years.

Objectives achieved by the renewed Amphitheater:

Goals for this project are:

  • 100-musician orchestra pit
  • Mechanical platform that also can sit flush with floor and stage
  • Expanded stage
  • Improved stage lighting
  • Improved technology systems for sound and projection
  • Larger storage areas for scenery and equipment
  • Improved loading dock with stage-level access

Increased audience capacity

  • Overall capacity increased 13%, to 6,363
  • Seating capacity increased 8%, to 4,363
  • Covered seating capacity increased 20%, to 4,363
  • Standing-room capacity increased 25%, to 2,000

Improved accessibility, safety, comfort and sight lines

  • 100 handicap-accessible seats, with companion seats
  • Handicap-accessible seating at three levels of seating bowl
  • Steps, handrails and tread lights on slopes of bowl
  • Improved and expanded restroom facilities
  • Ergonomically redesigned wooden benches
  • 50% of roof structure columns removed
  • Increased rake of floor seating

Modernized and increased functionality of back-of-house

  • Increased square footage from (21,200 ft.²) for performers, presenters, crews and storage
  • Expanded, climate-controlled space for libraries of classical and choral music
  • Improved and expanded dressing rooms and green/multi-purpose room
  • Freight elevator
  • Expanded rehearsal space
  • New restroom facilities

Approach from Bestor Plaza

Keeping the Amphitheater at its current site retains vital connectivity to the other significant community gathering places at the heart of the Chautauqua Institution grounds, including Bestor Plaza, Smith Memorial Library, the Athenaeum Hotel and the Brick Walk Cafe. On our approach from Bestor Plaza, as now, the brick walk ushers us toward the Amp and its open, welcoming embrace. The effect is even more striking with the renewed Amp, which reclaims the historic openness of the facility's western plaza area by removing of the 1981 bleachers.

Just outside Gate 4

As we prepare to enter the Amp’s outer boundary, just as in 1907, we can see clear through the facility toward the Presbyterian House and Athenaeum Hotel to the south and southeast. The wings of the roof are extended 15 feet on the edges to protect more seating from the elements. The height of the roof’s peak and western gable remain exactly the same, and, despite the entire structure’s prominent size and surface area, it dissolves into the surrounding landscape as the activity inside the Amp grabs our attention and draws our eyes downward, toward the stage. Retained in the new design but not seen in this rendering are the hundreds of globe lights ringing the roof’s edge.

Descent into the bowl

We descend into the deepened seating bowl at eye level with the grand Massey Memorial Organ façade, which continues to serve as the dramatic backdrop for onstage activity. The Amp’s signature alabaster color is preserved in elements from the benches to the choir loft to the beadboard-like ceiling. Code-compliant steps and handrails provide safer means of ingress and egress, and ramps allow for wheelchair- and scooter-accessible seating at three tiers of the bowl rather than two. The stage itself has been widened by 30 feet to accommodate Chautauqua’s growing and continually evolving artistic programming, and stage entrances are wider to allow easier access for our artists and crews and their instruments, set pieces and equipment.

Approach from the Athenaeum Hotel or Chautauqua Lake

The project's most dramatic changes are seen in the back-of-house, giving the Amphitheater the dramatic lakeside entrance it once had and deserves again. A large porch area features the familiar double columns and provides an important community gathering space for meet-and-greets. The architecture and landscape is reminiscent of the surrounding neighborhood, with welcoming, park-like side entrances and nearby rain gardens that exhibit Chautauqua's commitment to protecting Chautauqua Lake. A couple subtle touches: The curve of the third-story windows matches the ceiling of the front-of-house, and singer's walks provide accessibility and reclaim a lost element from the original Amp. Inside, a spacious, modernized backstage facility — one that envelopes and showcases the completely preserved Massey Memorial Organ chamber — demonstrates a high level of respect for Chautauqua's resident artists and distinguished guests.

Current View of the Amp Attic

1. Steel Truss Additions Over Stage

2. Steel Reinforcing and Cross Bracing Added

Current View of the Amp Attic

3. Attic Above Curved Ceiling - Active Work Space

4. Attic Above Curved Ceiling Near Stage - Active Work Area