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.

Chautauqua Board Approves the Construction of a renewed Amphitheater


December 30, 2015

Dear Chautauquans:

I am pleased to tell you that today, Chautauqua Institution’s Board of Trustees took a vital step towards Chautauqua Institution’s future, when it voted to move forward with our Amphitheater renewal project.

The Board vote authorized the Institution staff to award the construction contract to LPCiminelli, Inc., of Buffalo, who will serve as the project’s construction manager. The Trustees’ approval follows a successful effort by our Amphitheater project team of internal staff and external consultants to deliver a final project cost of $41.5 million, including contingency funds for any changes which may occur during construction. The entire cost of this project is funded by committed philanthropic dollars.

The renewed Amp will be a state-of-the art facility that ensures safety and accessibility for all Chautauquans and guests. It includes an expanded bowl and roof structure, ADA-compliant accessibility, an enlarged stage area, a 100-musician orchestra pit, and a new back-of-house structure. Most importantly, this Amphitheater will meet our strategic and program goals in their entirety.

The final design approved by the Board honors the Amp’s important historic role by maintaining the look and feel of the original structure. When you step into the Amp in the summer of 2017, you will see the many improvements, and you will still know you are in Chautauqua’s Amphitheater —

just as past generations of Chautauquans have done over the many years of the Amp’s evolution. This design direction has been emphasized by community members throughout our planning, design, and community input process.

Construction will begin in early February and continue in the months prior to the 2016 Chautauqua season. Initial work will include site preparation; infrastructure development; caisson installation; tree and bleacher removal; groundwater diversion; and partial underpinning of the Massey Organ. In addition, a substantial portion of the current back-of-house will be removed, and temporary facilities will be installed prior to the season start.

Be assured that when the 2016 season commences, we will have full use of the Amp facility. Once the coming season ends, work will resume in order to meet our goal of opening our 2017 season with a renewed Amphitheater.

We are incredibly excited to be moving forward with a renewed Amp, and we are very grateful to the generous donors to the Promise Campaign. Entering its final year, we have raised $92.3 million to invest in programming, endowment, the grounds and the Amphitheater. I am humbled by this commitment to the future of Chautauqua.

Jane and I wish you and your families a very happy and healthy New Year.

Tom Becker

President, Chautauqua Institution

Read the full press release on our press page

Board of Trustees announces Amphitheater vote, August 29, 2015


A Letter from President Tom Becker about the future of the Amphitheater: Download Tom's Letter (PDF)

Press Release: Chautauqua Board Votes to Put Amphitheater Design to Bid
Download the press release (PDF)   |  Read online

Tom Becker & Jim Pardo address the crowd gathered outside the press conference. Listen Here
Recording courtesy of Dennis Webster of the Jamestown Post Journal.

Press Conference Video (Held in Smith Memorial Library)

2015 Community Engagement Sessions

Chautauqua Institution held a series of community engagement sessions on the Amphitheater renewal project. These sessions were 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 ran 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.
Recordings of Amphitheater discussions are available here:
June 24, 2015
July 3, 2015
July 10, 2015
July 17, 2015
July 24, 2015
July 31, 2015

Letters on the Amphitheater Project

Sign up here to receive Amphitheater renewal email updates & other information from Chautauqua.

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:

Increased functionality

  • 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

Amphitheater Renderings

1. Approach from Bestor Plaza

2. View just outside Gate 4

3. View from Northern Perimeter

4. View from Western End

5. View from Southern Perimeter

6. View into Bowl from Southern Fence

7. Descent into the Seating Bowl

8. View from the Stage Area

9. View towards Back-Of-House

10. View of Rear Pathway

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