A 21st century company has set up shop in a 2,400 square foot open space on the second floor of the Opera House on Greenwood Avenue at Depot Place in Bethel.
“The history of this place is so rich, and we want to open it to the public to enjoy the arts,” said Stephen Snow, chief operating officer of The Center for New Media and the Arts.
The business produces films, makes videos, restores old photos and transfers 16 millimeter films to DVDs. Classes on how to use the computer, including using it for graphics and artwork, are in the plans.
Snow and Montague also want the space — with its high ceilings and 16 windows that measure 9 feet tall — to be used for art shows and the performing arts.
They hope to curate a show for a Connecticut artist in about a month and to open the space for poetry readings, film showings, acoustic jam nights and dance recitals.
The building’s ground floor houses The Opera Cafe.
The Center for New Media and the Arts will be following the tradition of the space, according to Pat Rist, president of the Bethel Historical Society.
“Over the years,” Rist said, “this structure has been used for a wide variety of functions, including a social hall, vaudeville, roller skating rink, pool hall, drug store, car dealership and silent movie theater.”
It was also an art gallery.
Originally the building, which dates to 1848, was known as Fisher’s Hall because it was built by Augustus A. Fisher. At the turn of the 20th century, Rist said, George H. Nichols bought the building and it became known as Nichols’ Opera House because it was used for entertainment — although not opera.
The second story of the building, Rist said, “included hardwood floors, window shutters, a balustrade and 16-foot ceilings. The stage that existed on the second floor was removed.”
The shutters are still on the high windows, and Snow and Montague freshened them and the rest of the space with a coat of white paint. They also spent long hours sanding and putting polyurethane on the wood floors.
Both men are proud of the building’s history and point to places along the walls where steps led to the former stage.
Rist was happy to hear about The Center for New Media and the Arts’ plans. “I’m thrilled to see any historic building downtown that maintains the architectural integrity and character of the structure while being used.”
In the middle of The Center’s wide-open floor plan, Snow and Montague have created a living-room setting with plush sofas and chairs. Besides production lights, speakers and big-screen televisions, potted plants and an old upright piano grace The Center.
“Bethel chose us,” Montague says about how he and Snow found the Opera House.
In 2002, Montague started a video business on Route 202 in New Milford called Montage Video Productions. Snow, who grew up in New York City, soon joined him. Snow, an honors graduate of the writing program at Columbia University, was a finalist in the Tribeca/Amazon.com Short Film Competition with his 2005 movie “Fall to the Son.”
“Steve and I were looking to branch the business out to another level,” Montague said, adding they started searching for a new location last year.
When they had problems with a tripod, the men were referred to commercial photographer Don Dempsey, whose business White Light Inc., has been in the Opera House building since 1981.
Snow saw the second-floor space first, Montague said, and told him “You’ve got to see this place.”
Montague did and “saw the potential.”
Whether or not The Center has an event, the men are eager to have visitors.
“We’re open, if people just want to see,” Snow said. “Come on over.”
Contact Stephen Snow
at [email protected] or
at (203) 731-3336.
IF YOU GO
WHAT — The Center for New Media and the Arts.
WHERE — The second floor of the Opera House, 186 Greenwood Ave., Bethel.
WHEN — Open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
PHONE — (203) 797-1786.
WEB SITE — www.dv-arts.com.