Midsize performing arts space opens in Canandaigua

By: Diana Louise Carter January 10, 2020

A theater is opening in Canandaigua, bringing back to life what started as a high school auditorium a century ago.

The Sands-Constellation Theater will have its grand opening in two performances this weekend and then be available for rental by local music, dance and theater groups.

The 427-seat theater’s grand opening takes place Saturday with a fundraising gala and performance by headliners Michael Park and Nicolette Hart, and several regional performing arts groups. Park starred on Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen” and television’s “Stranger Things.” Hart has been in Broadway’s “Rent” and was a part of the Bette Midler Tour. Tickets start at $75.

On Sunday, a performance by four local musical groups will be offered, and tickets are $20.

The space was created as a high school auditorium in the 1920s when Canandaigua Academy was built on North Main Street.  Currently the building is known as the Fort Hill Apartments, a condominium managed by Conifer Real Estate Development, Management and Construction Co.

The $4 million renovation resulted from a partnership between Conifer and a group of culture-loving volunteers. The group created a nonprofit entity in 2015, the Fort Hill Performing Arts Center Inc.

Sueann Townsend, executive director of the arts center, said they were seeking a midsize performance space for a variety of music, dance and theater groups in the area.  In 2018, the organization bought the theater portion of the apartment building – left untouched by Conifer during earlier renovations due to theater preservation laws – and remade it into a modern theater.

“When you walk in the theater, it looks like the original seats, but they are totally comfortable, modern-day padded seats,” Townsend said. The theater now has modern fire-suppression and heating-and-cooling systems, and access for the disabled, including ramps, elevators, and designated parking.

“I’m excited to get past the construction phase and get into the real meat of putting actual art on stage,” Townsend said.

Several groups have committed to renting the space for multiple performances each year, she said, including the Rochester City Ballet, Rochester Oratorio Society, Finger Lakes Concert Band,  Great Lakes Wind Symphony, Bristol Valley Theater and Finger Lakes Opera.

The theater is a size sought after by groups without their own venues who can draw several hundred people to performances but would appear to be lost in large venues such as the Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre or Nazareth Arts Center, Townsend said.

The Sands-Constellation Theatre will be dark through much of January as the staff tweaks what they’ve learned about operating the space from the opening weekend performances, Townsend said, and will reopen with a performance by Feb. 16 by the Great Lakes Wind Symphony.

dcarter@bridgetowermedia.com/(585) 363-7275