Every year since 1966, the founding of Chautauqua Institution has been celebrated on the first Tuesday of August in an evening known to Chautauquans as Old First Night.
“(OFN) is the annual birthday celebration for Chautauqua,” said Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund. “So it’s a real chance for the community to come together and, in a sense, offer birthday gifts to Chautauqua.”
The celebration has varied throughout the years, as Geof Follansbee, chief executive officer of the Chautauqua Foundation, said the program has changed “from decade to decade.” When the Institution turned 143 last season, it continued to evolve in an effort to be even more inclusive to both new and longtime Chautauquans. For the 144th birthday celebration, festivities will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, on Bestor Plaza, with family-friendly activities and crafts like mask coloring, yard games, a photo booth with props and the Community Band performance at 12:15 p.m. Evening activities are set to begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Amphitheater.
“(OFN) honors tradition and family,” said Tim Renjilian, co-chair of the Chautauqua Fund. “But it also makes clear that from day one, new Chautauquans are an essential part of the fabric here, and they represent the start of new traditions and future multigenerational Chautauquan families.”
The evening kicks off with Vespers led by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, followed by the Drooping of the Lilies, when audience members raises white handkerchiefs or tissues to remember late Chautauquans.
From there, other aspects of the evening program will include a plethora of activities.
Kit Trapasso, director of Children’s School, will lead the audience in singing “Happy Birthday.” Greg Prechtl, McCredie Family Director of Boys’ and Girls’ Club, will invite the audience to sing the “Club Song.”
After the songs, fund co-chairs Tim and Leslie Renjilian will invite community members to make a gift to the 2018 Chautauqua Fund. In previous years, Downey said the gifts from OFN are a significant contribution to the annual fund, sometimes raising between $30,000 and $70,000 in support of a wide range of programming. Those who make a gift today will be entered in a drawing to win a half-day pontoon boat rental.
The winner of the give- away will be announced by President Michael E. Hill after selections from Air Band. Theatre of Varieties will perform from 7:30 to 9 p.m. as part of the Family Entertainment Series, featuring “death-defying” stunts from Viktoria Grimmy, ventriloquism from Lynn Trefzger and magic from David “Kid Ace” Boyd.
To end the night, community members can enjoy cake served from various denominational houses, such as the Baptist House, Catholic House and United Methodist House, as well as the Chautauqua Women’s Club. A “cake map” will be provided. Following this treat, the film “Coco” will be shown at 9:30 p.m. on Bestor Plaza.
The events of OFN are meant to honor the Institution’s past and future, according to Tim Renjilian.
“To me, Old First Night is a sweet, inwardly-focused celebration that touches on many key elements of our community’s culture,” Tim Renjilian said. “Throughout it all, there’s a focus on the ways Chautauquans past, present and future have sustained, and will continue to support, the work and values of the Institution.”