Old First Night festivities return to Amphitheater


Jeffrey Jacobs raises a handkerchief aloft during the Drooping of the Lilies at Old First Night on Aug. 6, 2019, in the Amphitheater — the last in-person celebration before COVID-19. VISHAKHA GUPTA / DAILY FILE PHOTO

The word “tradition” has deep roots at Chautauqua and, unfortunately, the last 16 months have disrupted many of them. Now, it’s time to celebrate Chautauqua’s 147th birthday with Old First Night at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, in the Amphitheater and return to the traditions we know and love. 

Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer, said that “it will feel fantastic” to be having Old First Night in person, instead of online. According to Follansbee, despite it being important to the Institution to honor the traditions of OFN during quarantine, the event last summer lacked the “spontaneity and enthusiasm” that can always be found in the Amp. 

“I think, like everything about this summer, it won’t be quite as it’s been in past years. We’re going to have some restrictions that are placed on us about participation and everything, but it’s going to feel a whole heck of a lot better than last year,” Follansbee said. 

Chautauquans can expect to see a return of beloved traditions, such as the Drooping of the Lilies in remembrance of those departed, and the Chautauqua Vespers. The evening will also feature several opportunities to join together in song.

Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, said “we’ve missed gathering as a community; that’s what Chautauqua is all about.” 

In recent years, Downey and members of the Institution’s staff worked to make OFN more welcoming and inclusive for people who are new to Chautauqua. She sees this as a “terrific” opportunity to finally bring everyone, new and returning, together.

Initially, according to Downey, Airband was supposed to be welcomed back to the stage, but with the closure of Youth and Family Programs for much of Week Five (all youth activities are reopening today), that tradition had to be postponed for the time being. The children from Childrens’ School won’t be taking the stage, either, but they will be included virtually.

Chautauqua’s marketing team was able to put together a video of the children that will be played as a way to pay homage to the tradition. Downey said that Kit Trapasso, the Children’s School director, even interviewed some of the kids about their favorite things and that the footage is “adorable.” 

Another way that the kids are going to be incorporated is with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club song. One of the groups from Club will be brought on stage with Greg (Coach) Prechtl, the McCredie Family Director of Boys’ and Girls’ Club, to lead a sing-along with the audience to act as a unifier. 

OFN is a celebration of Chautauqua’s birthday, and in that vein, the Institution asks for people to make their donations on this day. This year, Downey said, the ushers will not be passing the baskets along the aisles; instead there will be present shaped boxes by the entrances for people to place their donations in, as well as a mobile-friendly website ( 

Downey wanted to highlight the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Foundation, which has “very generously stepped forward” and will be matching any first time donations dollar for dollar, not only for the 2021 season, but the 2020 one, as well. 

Additionally, there is a giveaway that anyone who donates is automatically entered into for an adult bike with a basket full of local products. All entries count up until midnight today and the winner will be selected and announced Wednesday.  

Follansbee hopes that people are willing to “bring a gift to the party” because Chautauqua “is absolutely dependent on the support of people who come” and he wants to continue to provide families with wonderful experiences. 

Following OFN at 7:30 p.m. in the Amp, Doktor Kaboom! will be taking the stage sporting chrome goggles and an orange lab coat. He strives to “empower, excite, educate and entertain” in order to get children interested in learning more about science and show that it can be for everyone. 

Tags : Amphitheaterdoktor kaboom!drooping of the liliesOld First Night
Sarah Vest

The author Sarah Vest