Since its founding, Chautauqua has celebrated its birthday on the first Tuesday of August, now known as Old First Night.
“The day is about celebrating the founding of Chautauqua and the fact that 145 years later, we are flourishing as an Institution,” said Geof Follansbee, vice president of development and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. “Just like at any birthday party, we want people to have a good time, and thus a series of activities that go along with the mood of the day.”
This “birthday party” will include a full day of fun activities and even a theme — superheroes.
“The theme this year is a really fun one, superheroes, which goes along with the movie night showing of ‘Incredibles 2,’ ” said Christine Doolittle, Chautauqua Foundation’s administrative project manager. “It made for some really fun activities like superhero face painting and making your own superhero shield. We’re excited to have our super-Chautauquans test out their strength and speed on an obstacle bounce house, too.”
The family-friendly festivities will take place from noon to 2 p.m. today on Bestor Plaza. In addition to the bounce house, face painting and make-your-own superhero shield, the plaza will host yard games, a photo station and paper lanterns for sale, to light up porches for the evening’s Old First Night celebration.
Starting at 12:15 p.m., August 6, on Bestor Plaza, the Chautauqua Community Band, lead by Jason Weintraub, will play its Annual Old First Night Concert.
To kick off the evening celebration, Thursday Morning Brass will perform at 6:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.
At 6:45 p.m. in the Amp, a variety of departments and organizations will come together for the Old First Night ceremonies. The Department of Religion will hold Vespers, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club will give an Air band performance, the Children’s School will sing school songs and will present their donation to the Chautauqua Fund.
Along with the ceremonies, there is an “exciting” new giveaway this season.
“I’m excited for families to learn of the electronics package giveaway as part of our evening celebration,” said Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund.“All participants who pledge their support or make a charitable gift on this evening are automatically entered to win a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet, charging dock and an Echo Show 5 compact smart display with Alexa.”
At 7:30 p.m. in the Amp, Taikoza, a rhythmic Japanese drum group, will perform as part of the Family Entertainment Series. Taikoza will also make an appearance earlier in the day at the family-friendly celebration on the plaza.
Rounding out the festivities at 9 p.m., all Chautauquans are invited to enjoy free birthday cake — for reference, there will be a map on the back of the Old First Night program to locate which denominational houses will be serving birthday cake, along with the Chautauqua Women’s Club. A screening of the movie, “Incredibles 2,” follows on the plaza, or Smith Wilkes Hall in the event of rain.
Old First Night holds a special place in many Chautauquans’ hearts, including those of the people who make the celebration possible.
For Doolittle, the best part of OFN is seeing guests of all ages celebrate Chautauqua.
“You really feel just how special this place is to everyone here, and it creates a real sense of belonging and kinship,” Doolittle said.
Downey appreciates the family ties.
“My favorite part of the evening is bearing witness to the nostalgia that anchors so many families to this experience, and to know that I’m a small part of creating the joy this provides so many,” Downey said. “This year, my daughter is performing on stage with the Group 2 Boys’ and Girls’ Air Band for the first time and I’m #mamaproud.”
As for Follansbee, his favorite part is a beloved memory. Follansbee grew up attending Old First Night celebrations with his dad, who led the ushers and collected donations in his signature wicker laundry basket.
“My dad became quite notorious for his collection techniques,” he said.
His dad has since passed, but the tradition lives on — Follansbee will be at this year’s activities with that same wicker basket.