The Institution’s program coordinators scored a home run on Monday with four varied Russia-related lectures on the very day President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were sitting down together in Helsinki. The large crowds at each event underscored Chautauqua’s putative programmatic prescience. And as the overflow audiences pondered the weighty issues presented to them, the Institution’s seasonal and support staff continued to ensure that everything works well, looks terrific, tastes good and is fun and entertaining. Here are six stories of those who make it all happen.
There were some noises in the hallway outside the Amphitheater production office. Skyler Dunlap came in. He had been helping a colleague muscle a large, heavy harp case from an open area to a safer, out of the way storage place. Dunlap is in his first year on Amp Manager Keith Schmitt’s crew and said he does “pretty much anything they need.”
“There is a fair amount of old-fashioned grunt work involved,” Dunlap said. “Something needs to be moved, I help them move it. Especially when the orchestra is playing, there is always a lot of set up.”
Dunlap said for big evening events at the Amp, there is mostly a lot of “hurry up and wait.”
We have to be ready for what comes along, but there is one thing we know will happen,” he said. “When a performer leaves the stage, we watch on the monitors and make sure we open the doors at the back of the stage so audiences won’t see the performer doing that themselves.”
Dunlap lives in Jamestown, where he grew up, graduated from Jamestown High School and is now entering his second year at Jamestown Community College. After he finishes at JCC, Dunlap plans to finish his Bachelor of Arts degree at SUNY Fredonia, majoring in theater design and management.
“I’ve been very interested in theater since I volunteered to help out with the production of a high school play,” Dunlap said.
And studying at JCC has helped him hone his plans.
“We got a new theater director this past year,” he said. “We have done several new productions, including Hairspray. It stretched us all, and we grew as a team.”
Dunlap, the eldest of seven kids, earned a USA Scholarship to cover all his tuition costs at JCC, and hopes to secure similar funding to help with his studies at Fredonia.
The Amp crew misses the back porch at the old Amp, where they could gather during downtime but be close to the action when necessary.
“We’re adjusting,” Dunlap said. “We have a crew locker room, and the orchestra pit area when the orchestra is not performing. We’ll figure it out.”
Floris Dunn works this summer at the Afterwords Café on Bestor Plaza. She said she does what all the employees at the café do: “We cook, clean, wait on tables, handle the cash register, anything to make the place run smoothly.”
Colleagues and her supervisor say she’s terrific, never missing work and always upbeat. But life has not often been smooth for Dunn.
When she graduated from Jamestown High School five decades ago, Dunn began a career in retail at the old Bigelow’s Department Store on Third Street in downtown Jamestown. Dunn had already been through a lot, and much more was to come.
The second youngest of nine children, Dunn and her brother were sitting on their father’s lap as youngsters. He was reading to them — then he stopped. Something was wrong. He had suffered a heart attack and soon passed away. This tragedy triggered a passage for Dunn and her brother through two foster families.
One was in it for the county reimbursement, and the other family was Christian and caring. Dunn and her brother were adopted by her new family when she was 11 years old.
“My new mom was a retired teacher,” she said. “She used flashcards to teach us multiplication and division.”
At Bigelow’s in Jamestown, Dunn was an office worker, doing billing and filing. She moved to the Bon-Ton in Warren, Pennsylvania, and later worked for several years at the Jamestown Manufacturing Corporation, a maker of doors and other building features and materials. In the early 1990s, Dunn was taking business courses at Jamestown Business College, earning a medical office certificate. By this time, she was married and worked for a while in doctor’s offices.
For the past dozen years, Dunn has worked as a substitute paraprofessional in the local school system.
“That means I’m a teacher’s aide,” she said. “I like the little kids in elementary school best, maybe because I could not have children myself.”
She also serves as a private home health care aide, a job she does on her days off from Afterwords.
Last November, Dunn was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctor found a lump that proved to be growing aggressively, and there followed surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
“My friends were amazed that I didn’t get sick,” she said. “My strong faith in God keeps me on a positive course.”
She wears a wig or head covering at work.
“Mostly it’s only little kids who ask about it,” she said.
Dunn said she had visited the Institution perhaps five times while living in Jamestown for 40 years.
“When you add up the gate fees and parking, it’s kind of expensive,” she said.
Now that she has a gate pass, she is looking forward to attending the Frankie Valli concert at the end of the season.
Timothy Stewart has worked three different jobs at Chautauqua over the past eight years.
“I guess that makes me at least part Chautauquan,” he said.
He began on the grounds as a Daily carrier for two years, then served up ice cream for two years and worked the deli counter for a third year at the Brick Walk Cafe. This summer is his third year as an extended seasonal member of the gardens and landscapes crew.
“That means I may start work in March and go until November or even early December, depending on the weather,” Stewart said.
In 2001, Stewart’s family moved from Colorado to Mayville. His mother, an experienced commercial indoor plantscaper and gardener, worked for a few years at the Institution’s gardens and landscapes department under former director Ryan Kiblin.
“When Ryan passed, we thought no one could replace her,” Stewart said. “Then they found Betsy Burgeson, and we had a great replacement.”
A graduate of Chautauqua Lake Central School in Mayville, Stewart isn’t sure about a college future.
“I love gardening, and could see myself someday owning my own landscaping firm,” he said.
The variety of work on the grounds keeps him interested and versatile.
“They move us around among crews,” he said. “One week we might be mowing, the next week watering, and then weeding and pruning next.”
After-work and after-season hours are devoted to artistic passions. Stewart has done stand-up every week at the Labyrinth in Jamestown for several months and also sings and writes lyrics for the Spores, a local heavy metal band that is currently working on a seven-song demo tape to promote future gigs and possibly recording contracts.
“I’m not sure how our music would play at the Institution,” Stewart said. “There’s a fair amount of speaking and shouting mixed in with the melodies.”
For now, he is living at home, saving money for what the future may offer.
“My parents are the most supportive parents in the world,” he said. “They have always told me that my passion doesn’t have to be my career, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue my passions.”
Andrew Stroth is the Institution’s principal heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician. He started full-time on the maintenance staff at Chautauqua 19 years ago and has spent many of his seasons here answering distress calls from frantic staff becoming unhinged as their air conditioning stuttered or failed.
This year, Stroth said there haven’t been too many problems, surprising in view of the season’s high heat and humidity.
“Air-conditioning units are usually sized for certain heat and humidity levels,” Stroth said. “We’ll likely be pretty busy if it stays hot and damp.”
While Stroth and Jack Munella, manager of buildings and grounds, handle virtually all HVAC issues during the season, Stroth can expect to work in a variety of building trades in the off season.
“We all do basically whatever is needed,” he said, “including plumbing, electrical and carpentry.”
But he does most routine maintenance and repair on HVAC systems in the Institution’s 100 buildings.
Stroth has lived in nearby Sherman, New York, for the past nine years with his wife and stepdaughter. Before that, he lived in Jamestown. He grew up and went to school in Ellery Center, near Bemus Point, across the lake from the Institution.
He said emergency after-hours calls are not commonplace, but do occur.
“I have some software on my laptop computer that permits remote diagnosis from my home, and sometimes I can troubleshoot the problem without having to come back in to work,” he said.
Most of the buildings tradesmen work a schedule of 10 days on and four days off.
“I can take a day off here and there during the summer season, but really, we know we are needed here every day in the season,” Stroth said.
He said the biggest emergencies during his time at Chautauqua were both the result of blocked sewer lines during major construction projects at Hagen-Wensley House and the new Amphitheater.
“The Amp blockage occurred during the Jamestown High School graduation last year,” Stroth said. “With that big crowd on the grounds and the new Amp about to open, we were glad when we got that one fixed.”
Lauren Barmore has worked on the grounds for the past four years, but this is her first season at Sports Club.
“I lifeguarded for two years at the Institution’s four public beaches, and worked for a cleaning contractor for one summer,” she said. “This year is the most fun, because I love customer service and working with people, and that’s a lot of what we do at the Sports Club.”
A recent incident typified for Barmore what’s good about her current job.
“A woman from northern California, here for a week’s stay, came into the club the other day,” she said. “She checked out a kayak, but seemed a bit hesitant and asked me to help her get oriented. I checked with my boss and got the OK. This lady and I wound up spending more than a half hour out on the lake until she was able to get comfortable. We wound up exchanging contact information. Maybe this will be a good business contact for me.”
Barmore’s father owns his own plumbing and electrical business, and her mother is a financial manager for the Heritage Green nursing homes in the area.
Barmore grew up and still lives in nearby Panama, New York. She is headed for college at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, in the fall. She plans to study international business, and hopes for a career that involves international travel and people. The overseas part will be new as she has done little traveling so far.
“My aunt was an exchange student in Sweden, and my family hosted an exchange student from Spain, so I got a taste for what life might be like in other countries from them,” she said.
Barmore was a multi-sport athlete in high school. She was a point guard on her basketball team that advanced for three straight years through the league, section and regional tourneys to at least the state Class D semifinal game.
“We lost all three years to the eventual champion from the northern part of the state,” Barmore said.
She has already been approached about playing on Behrend’s basketball team and swimming for the college, but thinks she may just concentrate on her studies — at least at first.
This is Davis Bates’ second season at what Main Gate ticket agents call the brick octagon, the internal cockpit at whose windows visitors and Chautauquans alike line up to purchase admission to the grounds and its myriad events.
“I also work the phones or help out at the Visitors Center on Bestor Plaza,” he said. “We need to be versatile and to know how to help wherever the supervisors need us.”
In keeping with Director of Guest Experience Karen Williams’ emphasis on both initial and refresher training for staff, Bates participated in training sessions before the season.
“A lot of it, for us, was a review of ticketing policies and procedures,” he said. “We do need to know the rules well because some of our customers sure do.”
Especially when he is deployed at the Visitors Center, Bates finds much use for the Institution’s DoTheMambo app, both for tram and bus schedules and up-to-date information on the smorgasbord that is Chautauqua’s summer programming.
“That app has bailed me out more than once,” he said.
Bates is about to return to Niagara University for his senior year as a history major. Born in State College when his parents were graduate students at Penn State University, Bates has lived in Westfield for most of his life. He will finish college in only seven semesters and plans to use his extra time off before graduation to refine his career thinking.
“I’m strongly interested in history, especially art history in the middle ages as it is reflective of the geopolitical history of the era,” Bates said. “I’d like to get into a graduate program that can lead to a Ph.D.”
His interest in art history, especially, was sparked by a school course trip to Italy last summer.
Education runs in the family. Bates’ mother is an adjunct professor at SUNY Fredonia. His father runs the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in Brocton, New York, just east of Westfield. Bates will be doing archival research work at the Niagara University library this fall, both to fulfill course requirements and to get a preview of what doctoral preparation might look like.
Living nearby in Westfield, Davis had visited the grounds many times prior to starting to work here. He also performed on the Amp stage in high school as a member of the all-county chorus.
“Chautauqua is a comfortable fit for me,” he said.
FROM PAGE C1
» on the grounds
BICYCLE SAFETY RULES
1. Bikes must be maintained in a safe operating condition and shall have adequate brakes, a bell or other signaling device, a rear reflector and a headlight. Operators under 14 years of age must wear a New York state-required helmet. 2. Bikes are not to be ridden on brick walks or other paths reserved for pedestrian use. 3. Bikes must be operated at a speed that is reasonable and prudent and in no instance at more than 12 mph. 4. Bicyclists shall always give the right of way to pedestrians. 5. In accord with New York state law, bicyclists shall observe all traffic signs and signals (for example, stop signs, one-way streets)