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Opera House Live closes due to flooding

By Staff | Jun 1, 2018

Tabitha Johnston/Chronicle A dehumidifier dries out the opera house’s laundry room, where the destructive flooding began May 16.

On the morning of May 16, the son of Opera House Live’s new owners, Harriet and Steve Pearson, opened the door to the Opera House and discovered a nightmare – a hose from the second floor’s washing machine had broken, leaking gallons of water onto the floor throughout the night.

The damage turned out to be extensive. The water had dripped through the floor and down onto the stage, permanently warping the dance floor and stage, and damaging the theater’s carpeting, sound system and lighting equipment.

A total of 4,683 gallons of water had leaked from the hose, according to the Shepherdstown meter reader.

“Had it been a simple stormwater flood, I could have just mopped it up and continued with the show,” said Steve Pearson. “But now we have to rebuild the theater.”

He estimated one-third of the building has been affected by the flood.

Pearson said they were able to unbolt and save the theater’s 75 original seats. A portion of the ceiling above the theater had to be stripped to the bone; only the structure had survived the flood.

“They ripped out the last of the water-logged materials” on May 23, Pearson said. “It was a solid week of removal, because the water just gets everywhere.”

By that morning, the building was almost completely dry, thanks to over a dozen industrial dehumidifiers and raising the indoor air temperature to 120 degrees.

“This is an opera house – it’s our opera house – and we’re going to rebuild it. It’s going to take months,” Pearson said. “I have a contractor lined up, but it’s going to take a while to negotiate with our insurance company and rebuild. I don’t anticipate opening before Labor Day.”

Pearson, a software developer, and his wife, who is an attorney in Washington, D.C., usually spend their weekends in their Shepherdstown home. They bought the theater in March with the goal of revitalizing it in their spare time, and eventually retiring with it as a part-time job.

While that might someday be the case, the restoration is forcing Pearson to treat the theater like a full-time job and neglect his software development business. However, Pearson remains optimistic everything will work out.

“Our goal is to maintain the historical integrity of the building, but also to keep up with the times,” he said. “The community’s been very supportive, with us reinvigorating it and expanding the theater’s schedule.” He said they want to have programming running in the theater 18 to 20 nights a month.

Along with retaining the Opera House’s popular music group programming, the theater will incorporate new programming, including independent films, documentaries, lectures, film festivals and variety entertainers. The new programming will be inspired by the Opera House’s original programming, which featured silent films and vaudeville acts.

“We see it – beyond just the pleasure it brings to the community – as an economic drive for the community, to bring in tourists for the shows,” Pearson said.

To keep up-to-date with Opera House Live, visit www.operahouselive.com or stop by Opera House Live’s Street Fest booth.