Bratton Theater

Doing Things Right

The Bratton Theater stands as an inspiring model of the healthy blending of old Chautauqua's architecture with new Chautauqua's needs. The architects essentially preserved the character, feel and even a substantial portion of the material substance of the former Normal Hall while expanding the overall facility.

The retention of some of the original exterior facade as well as much of the original interior woodwork undoubtedly constricted the creative reach and free range of the project's designers. However, those designers rose to the challenge by renovating and expanding the existing structure in a fashion that preserves the feel of the original building while effectively masking the impact of the increased size of the overall edifice. Chautauquans found that we didn't have to completely lose an old building in order to gain an essentially new building.

For years the theater establishment expressed its desire for a setting more diminutive than Norton Hall that would accommodate traditionally smaller theater crowds (relative to the opera audiences) in an intimate setting independent of the constraints inherent in sharing time and space with the Chautauqua Opera company.

From Sunday School . . .

Originally erected to house classes in the study of Bible and Sunday School methods, Normal Hall at times did double duty as a headquarters for the School of Practical Arts, which included shorthand, typewriting and business training. Thus, Chautauquans established early on Normal Hall's tradition of catering to both the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the practical.

. . . to Wood Shop

In retrospect, it does not appear all that unfitting that this former Sunday School building should in later years serve as the workshop for the Opera company's set designers and carpenters. Perhaps its quintessentially Chautauquan architecture, replete with exterior clapboard walls, ornamental trim and interior wooden rafters, provided an overly quaint atmosphere for the construction of theatrical sets. But in a Chautauqua context this utilitarian function seemed natural and somehow appropriate.

During this phase of Normal Hall's middle ages, few Chautauquans had the opportunity or even a reason to explore the hall's interior. So, its later reincarnation as a theater not only extended its life as a viable structure; it also enabled the building to serve Chautauquans more directly by opening its doors to theatergoers well into the foreseeable future.

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