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Managing director named at the Lancaster Opera House

BY: Jennifer Lysiak, Lancaster Editor | July 07, 2014

You never know where life will take you and most of know the saying, “when one door closes another opens,” but what happens if one door you thought was closed… reopens?

For Matthew Walters it has led him back to the Lancaster Opera House to a position he first applied for about 20 years ago.

Recently named the Lancaster Opera House Managing Director, Walters has been overseeing the day-to-day operations of the opera house for a little more than a month now, as well as adding a few new ideas along the way.

“I heard through the grapevine that they [the Lancaster Opera House Board] were looking for someone and I submitted my resume, and my goal all along was to at least get [the board] thinking,” remarked Walters, a Lancaster resident. “If there’s one thing I absolutely loath is saying we are going to do things, because that’s the way we have always done them and there’s no original thought and we just kind of go through the motions. So, my goal in the interview process was to make sure new ideas were being generated.”

Walters, who is currently COO of Oogie Games, said he first started performing at the age of seven, but in 1981 he performed on the opera house stage in a show that gave him his first real role. It was at that time, a custodian named Maggie sat him down and lectured him on how special the opera house was, as well as reminding him of various rules such as no gum chewing.

“I was eight years old and I was freaked out,” laughed Walters. But ever since then I have had such a reverence for this space.”

While attending college in his 20’s he worked at the opera house as the house manager for three years. At that time the executive director left and Walters applied for position.

“I wasn’t qualified in the least, but they were nice enough to grant me an interview,” said Walters. “In the years since, I have talked to different board members about applying when the position came up and it was either never the right time for me or I didn’t have the experience they were looking for.”

However, that is no longer the case as Walters looks ahead on what he can do to improve the theater experience.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a relatively creative guy,” said Walters. “I’m definitely not one who has lack of ideas. I have really been concentrating on talking to the staff, the board, and the patrons to find out what they need and what they want. My goal coming in was to see how I could get more of the community involved.”

Walters added they have made a few small changes already, which have worked very well, such as adding a second intermission station up in the balcony.

“That was huge,” said Walters. “People in the balcony loved it. Our concession area has always been very crowded, adding a second station was wonderful. It eased everything up.”

Also, before every performance either the Lancaster Opera House Artist Director David Bondrow or Walters will get up on stage and welcome the crowd versus playing the prerecorded greeting.

“It has a little more of a personal touch,” he added. “Bondrow is really the face of the opera house and he does an excellent job at that.”

There is also a classic cinema series that the opera house had never offered before, which will include a question and answer session after the movie with local theater buffs to learn about some of the behind the scenes information.

“There are a lot of ideas that aren’t completely finished yet,” said Walters. “However, we are not looking to change the performance night experience. The board has been really pushing Dave Bondrow to increase the quality level of our shows. That’s something I’m backing him 110 percent on that I think as good as our shows are we can always get a little bit better.”

Some other ideas include bringing in a Big Band to host a swing dance and adding more classic movie nights and even recent movie nights. There have been discussions about welcoming local playwrights to the opera house to do read throughs in front of an audience.

“Anytime we can showcase local talent we will try to take advantage of it,” explained Walters. “The great part about the opera house is we can be so versatile. We are open to anything.”

In fact, a local teacher just held a recital at the opera house.

“At the end of the day, it truly is the community’s space,” said Walters.

Since Walters took the position he said he has been doing some research and found out the opera house has been really fortunate. He explained most theaters in Western New York will obtain anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of their funding from a government source and the opera house receives less than three percent.

“So we are incredibly self funded and I’m very proud of that,” he said.

In addition, the opera house has an incredible member base with 15 to 20 volunteers showing up to help on a show night and corporate sponsors who have been with them for 15 to 20 years.

“I just hope I can do it justice down the road,” said Walters. “I hope I can continue on the tradition of a lot of our other great executive directors and really carry on the tradition of this space and we continue to move forward. Plus I get to come here everyday and hear Dave singing. Dave is always singing, which is awesome. I’m usually the guy at Oogie breaking into song all the time.”

While Walters does love to perform on stage, he said for now he’s hanging it up. He has performed sporadically through the years, but for now he’s excited to work together with Bondrow on enhancing the theater experience for the community.

“I’m thrilled by the energy he’s bringing to the organization,” said Bondrow. “I’m looking forward to the exciting possibilities on the horizon for the opera house.”

To pick up the 2014-15 season brochure stop by the box office, located at 21 Central Ave., in the town hall, second floor. Brochures will also be available at some of the local businesses in Lancaster.

“I’m thankful,” said Walters. “I’ve always held the opera house in very high esteem and it’s nice to be surrounded by Dave, and Christie, Ruth, John down at the box office, or any of the volunteers who also have that love for this space.”

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