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Going half-baked into the heat of summer

by John PIxley

I didn’t make it to the groundbreaking ceremony. It was just one of those things I would have liked to have gone to, but it was at a bad time for me.

Actually, it wasn’t just one of those things. It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the extensive renovation of the Claremont High School Theatre. The renovation will be so extensive that it required a groundbreaking and also a new name: the Don F. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts, in honor of the widely-admired first theater director at the high school (I remember my older sister and her friends talking about him when they were in high school). The event took place 2 weeks ago and was literally a longtime dream come true.

It was certainly a dream come true for me, even if I wasn’t there. I was thrilled 2 years ago when I first heard of the effort to raise $1.5 million for the renovation and, with a matching Career and Technical Education grant from the State Allocation Board, make it reality and not just talk and a wish.

It has always been a pain to go to a show at the theater in a wheelchair, so much so that I have tended to avoid going there. Getting into the theater, going through a small, dark side entrance, has been an obstacle course which isn’t fun, and sitting on a narrow ledge with a sight-line railing often results in a literal headache. It was great to hear that a big part of the renovation will make the theater more wheelchair-accessible.

Those of us in wheelchairs are by far not the only ones who will benefit from the renovation. It has always looked to me like those steep stairs are scary and dangerous, and I can only hope the theater ends up being a light and airy space rather than the current cramped and dingy hole-in-the-wall. And no doubt Krista Elhai, the longtime CHS theater director who has been every bit as hard-working and beloved as Mr. Fruechte, and her students are delighted with the additional space that they will have for storage, rehearsal and preparation.

The groundbreaking was the community coming together to make something happen that a lot of people wanted to see happen. It was a celebration and a promotion of community. Not unlike the CHS production of All Shook Up at Bridges Auditorium a few weeks ago.

I regret that I missed this, too. As was the case last year, the show was scheduled over Memorial Day weekend, when I go out of town, but it has always seemed to me that the big end-of-the-year musical in the big theater is more than a theatrical production. It is, again, truly the community coming together to make something happen.

Which is why I don’t get why the Wednesday night street fair isn’t happening in the Village this summer. When I heard this last month from a friend who was a vendor at the street fair last year and wanted to do the same this year, my immediate thought was that the city is being foolish and letting a real opportunity slip by.

It’s not that I’m upset that my friend doesn’t have the opportunity to be a vendor there. Other such opportunities are available.

And it’s not that I’m upset that I won’t have someplace to go every Wednesday evening, although it was nice to get out and listen to some music as the sun went down and the day cooled off. Although this was a nice midweek break, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the street fair as often as I did last year and certainly not every Wednesday (when I’m in town) as I did when it debuted the year before.

It’s the same with the Friday Nights Live concerts in the Village. I don’t go as often as I used to. It depends on who’s playing, and it’s not the only time I can hear live music for free in Claremont during the summer. For example, there will be the Monday night concerts in Memorial Park, which I find to be a more comfortable, more inviting setting.

But I love that I can go listen to a band playing in the Village for free in the cool of a week-ending Friday evening if I feel like it. And I love that when I do choose to go to the Friday Nights Live concerts, I usually see that there are plenty of others taking advantage of the opportunity.

This is what Claremont is missing out on in not having the Wednesday night street fair in the Village. Even if I wouldn’t be the every Wednesday, there would always be people there—and not just my friend who wanted to be a vendor.

And, as with my vendoring friend, there are, yes, other opportunities—there always are—but why give all these people the excuse to take advantage of these opportunities somewhere else.

Last year, I knew there was a problem when the Wednesday night fair was scheduled for June through August instead of mid-April through September as it was during its first year. The fair also covered a significantly smaller area. It was like Claremont was wavering and having second thoughts. It was like Claremont wanted to have an evening street fair like many other towns but was half-hearted about it.

I’m always hearing it said that more people need to be attracted to the Village—to bring in more revenue, for one thing—but I sometimes wonder if Claremont doesn’t want to attract too many people or the wrong people. I keep thinking about the letter that appeared in these pages soon after the first fair, with the writer alarmed about there being “carnival people” and “hot-dog-on-a-stick” in the Village.

I’m also sure it takes some money to put on the street fair, but it only makes sense that it takes some expense to attract a crowd. Call it an investment. That is, again, if we want to attract a crowd.

Summer—and today is the first day of summer—is a good time to celebrate and nurture community, with long, balmy evenings and people having a bit more time on their hands. Claremont is good at promoting community, but doing it without its summer evening street fair is definitely half-baked.

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