Opening of New Play-House a
Society Event.

    About six months ago Dr. F. S. Sampson startled the people of Penn Yan with the announcement that he would build a new theatre here if he could be assured of a sale of 500 tickets of three dollars each for the first performance. Many people shook their heads and said “he’s only fooling,” but when ground was broken in May for the foundation, it became apparent after all that the Doctor was very much in earnest.
    Seats for the first permormance (sic) were sold by subscription at three dollars each, and the house was sold out several weeks ago, when subscriptions for the second night were taken at $1.50.
    “The City” was the play selected for the opening, but announcement was made a week ago that Louis Mann, in “The Cheater,” had been substituted. This was a happy change. The company supporting Mr. Mann is an excellent one, and the large audience was delighted. Especially noteworthy was the work of Madame Mathilde Cottrelly, as the wife of the star, and Miss Emily Ann Wellman, a housemaid in the Plittersdorf home. Charles Holton, as “Willie,” was also exceedingly good.
    It required a lot of hustling to get the house ready for Wednesday night, but Dr. Sampson was equal to every emergency.
    The auditorium was a little slow in filling up, but it did not take long to discover that the event was to be made a real swell society affair. Men in full evening dress and white kid gloves, and ladies wearing beautiful evening gowns, were much in evidence.
    About 8:30 the orchestra began playing “America” and everybody rose. This act dedicated the new theatre. Then Clinton B. Struble, Esq., stepped to the front of the lower right hand box and delivered the following address:
Ladies and Gentlemen:--
    It is hard for us to realize all at once what a gift Penn Yan has received in the erection and opening, at the appointed time, of this theatre, for under its enthusiastic and ambitious management we are to be offered seasons of entertainment as it has not been our privilege to enjoy here for many years.
    One of the ways we judge the civilization of any town is by the quality of its amusements, and excellence of quality is what this theatre proposes to stand for. The play this evening is proof enough of that, for they say in Elmira, “The Cheater dosen’t (sic) cheat.”
    It is a great thing for Penn Yan that the plan of having this theatre was not conceived and carried through in purely a commercial spirit. Its promoter and manager are actuated by other sentiments – by sentiments that make it natural and inevitable that we support them in their patriotic enterprise.
    For in any modern community a house like this, where people can meet together to discuss what concerns them, is a first necessity.
    We have not merely a home for the drama, but a place for concerts, for political gatherings – and on that line, Little Yates is only second to Tammany Hall – for an assembly of the people. A building for these things can not be valued too highly, and it is our business to make our theatre stand for the best things in the drama and in public affairs.
    All the large cities of our country are beginning to learn that the amusements of the people are no less important than education and sanitation.
    Let us use this building for the best we can get – for good music, for clean plays, and for instructive and interesting lectures.
   The drama is a very noble thing. A great dramatist is a great thinker; the actor is the artist.
    In some countries of the world the drama is esteemed so much that it is supported by the state. In our town the theatre must be supported by the citizens. Let us dedicate this house to good plays and good purposes.
    We are told in Biblical History it was impossible to find ten men in “Sodom” so constituted as to acceptably fulfill certain requirements. Conditions in this place for the last few years have been worse in the way of lack of civic effort and local pride, for until now it has been equally impossible to find even one man who had the public spirit, the enterprise, the pluck and last but not least the generosity to unselfishly bring to a successful termination something that is a benefit to all in the way of this beautifully appointed theatre.
    Once upon a time there was a “Samson,” renowned for his great physical strength, and he brought down the house. To-day we have another Sampson, renowned for other and more praiseworthy things, for he has built the house up; for whom no introduction on my part is necessary. I wish to present to you Penn Yan’s prodigy, who is better able than I to tell why and how he did it – Dr. Sampson.
    Dr. Sampson was a little nervous when he arose to tell “how he did it.” He said he was no orator. He could build an opera house, but he couldn’t make a speech. He thanked everybody for the encouragement that had been given him, and the workmen who had been employed for the manner in which they performed their several duties.
    The first night’s receipts exceeded $1800. On March 11, 1890 the Sheppard Opera House was opened here with “Jim, the Penman.” The receipts on that occasion were about $750. C. H. Sisson was manager. The name was afterwards changed to the Yates Lyceum, and the theatre was burned on the evening of March 18, 1907, the fire starting while “The Hottest Coon in Dixie” was being played. It was a bad fire, but fortunately everybody got out of the theatre by the side exits before the flames reached the auditorium, the fire starting under the hall leading to the entrance.
    At the close of the second act of “The Cheater” Mr. Mann was called upon for a speech. He said he did not like to make remarks during the presentation of his play because he preferred to have the audience remember him as Plittersdorf instead of the man, but as the occasion was such an unusal (sic) one he would say a few words. He said a theatre is essential for educational purposes in every community. He told of the obligation resting upon the people to support such a place if they would have good attractions. No matter what effort is put forth by the management good attractions can only be secured by furnishing them with good business. In this way the people have it in their power to determine the class of attractions that will appear. He thanked everybody for the friendly spirit displayed, and said when he got back to New York he would be pleased to speak a good word for Penn Yan and its new theatre.
    All of these little extras delayed the performance, and it was 11:45 when the last curtain came.
    The appointments of the new house are very complete. The curtain presented by Wendell T. Bush, of Brooklyn, contains a picture of his summer home, “Esperanza,” in the center, with decorative panels surrounding it. It is very pretty. The house employees are: Miss Mattie Sabin, treasurer; Frank Marring, stage manager; Byron Jackson, musical director; Harold Tuthill, chief usher; Frank Scanlon, main doorkeeper; Elmer Meeks, gallery doorkeeper.

Thanks to Jan Thorn for help with the typing!