GALLIPOLIS — From high school shows to a musical theatre dream, Lora Snow has spent most of her life sharing the love of arts through performance and The Ariel Opera House.
Snow, the founder and executive director of the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre — also known as The Ariel Theatre and The Ariel Opera House — was recently recognized for her work by The Ohio Arts Council.
Snow was the recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award for Arts Administration in 2020.
“This is for administering something, an organization of some sort,” Snow said. “The Ohio Arts Council is a pretty large organization, so it was quite an honor to be selected to receive the award. And an acknowledgement of our artistic excellence that we have at the Ariel.”
The award is “one of the most prestigious arts events in Ohio” celebrating individuals and organizations who are exemplary artists or who have showed unwavering support for the arts and developing the culture of Ohio, according to the Ohio Arts council’s website. The award began in 1971.
Snow said she was excited to have arts in a smaller area of Ohio acknowledged.
“Very nice to have some attention in the southeastern part of the state,” Snow said. “To have attention drawn to southeast Ohio and the sort of things that we produce here was quite an honor and nice [notoriety] that it doesn’t have to be one of the three large metropolitan areas, that we can have quality programs that are worthy of state recognition right here in Gallipolis. And serving, as we like to say, the Ohio River Valley region on both sides of the river.”
Snow has always been involved in music. She said in 1987, she had a vision of starting an orchestra in town.
Soon, Snow learned of an abandoned theatre in town and a friend helped get the doors opened for her to check out the building.
“I was not aware of The Ariel being there. It did not have any kind of indication from the street that there was a theatre back there because it had been closed and unused for 25 years,” Snow said.
Snow said the moment she walked into the building; she knew it was meant to house a symphony.
“I walked in there and it was just love at first sound,” Snow said. “I could tell right away that the acoustics were just spectacular, and I didn’t really pay one bit of attention to all the debris, the presence of pigeons. I just fell in love with the place.”
Snow wasted no time after her acoustic-heaven discovery. She quickly put together a board of governors, signed a lease and started cleaning to make the place presentable to showcase her plans.
“People were polite, and they were you know, oh that’s nice, but she’s crazy,” Snow said. “One of my board members said after that, ‘well if the acoustics are so great, why don’t you show everybody, put on a show.’”
So, she did.
On April 1, 1989, the Ohio Valley Symphony debuted with its first performance.
“It was spectacular,” Snow said. “I always think as a professional I turn in a good job and sometimes I deserve to pat myself on the back, but there’s this handful of times in one’s life where you just turn in a golden moment and that was it.”
Snow said people jumped aboard after the performance and started helping bring her dreams into a reality.
Snow said her vision came from being tired of the poor way artists were treated by conductors and managers, a way that was accepted in thought artists played better. She believes The Ariel has helped prove artists play better with kindness.
“I said to myself, they will notice. The audience will notice, consciously or subconsciously they will notice, and they do,” Snow said. “And the musicians appreciate being treated properly. We pull in people now from seven states and Canada to play in our orchestra.”
With close parking, an intimate hall with perfect views and sounds, reasonable prices and an all-around good show, Snow said, The Ariel is a perfect place to plan a trip.
“I think it’s very easy for the larger cities to not think about smaller areas like ours. And for something like this, it draws attention to the things we have to offer,” Snow said. “We are quite good and a worthy place for people to come who are real music junkies and love to hear fine music.”
She also said it is a perfect time to see the work everyone has put into downtown Gallipolis, including new businesses.
“Almost everything on that block where we are has undergone some kind of renewal or revival,” Snow said.
In case someone worries about correct pronunciation of the theatre, Snow has them covered.
“Unlike Disney it’s pronounced r-e-l,” Snow said. “It was there before Disney, that’s what I always tease people.”
She may tease people on the pronunciation of the theater, but Snow knows her building history.
“Ariel has a number of different meanings,” Snow said. “Ariel is also represented as a sprite of a water and the air, which we thought, ‘wow, that was perfect. Were they thinking about that for Gallipolis being on the water?’ It was built by the Ariel Oddfellow’s Lodge in 1895. Why they chose the name, I don’t know, but that was the name they chose for their lodge.”
Snow said while it is not considered a theatre, at the time of being built, opera house was the preferred term, even if opera was never performed.
“They [lodges] didn’t like the word theatre, theatre was considered a disreputable word. What we know as a theatre was called an opera house. It didn’t’ have anything to do with whether opera was ever presented on the stage, that’s just what they called them.”
Opera houses across the nation were built with a typical floorplan to maximize use, Snow said.
“They incorporated the opera houses into their facilities,” Snow said. “The fairly standard setup for the opera houses were storefronts on a ground level that provided income on a daily basis. Some kind of a banquet room or gathering room on the second floor. Sometimes the opera house itself, with the theatrical seating was on the second floor. The lodge room was on the third floor, if they could afford three floors.”
While opera houses went by a standard floor plan, Snow said The Ariel was unique.
“We were lucky that ours was built behind the store fronts and not up on a second floor,” Snow said. “It makes it a little bit harder with fire codes to deal with second floor opera houses and the numbers of people that you want to have seated there. Why they did it, I’m not sure.”
Snow said at one time The Ariel seated approximately 1,000 people but due to increased safety measures and fire codes, the theatre seats 465 people.
Snow said the theatre was kept as true to its original state as possible. She found workers knowledgeable with plaster to keep the original walls, similar lights to the originals, restoring the woodwork, matching carpet and more. The plaster, Snow said, is one of the true beauties to the hall’s acoustics.
“That’s one of the three components to a truly great acoustical hall, having very thick plaster covered walls,” Snow said. The others are being built in the 19th century and having parallel walls or shoebox shape.”
Prior to beginning the theatre project, Snow went out and interviewed hundreds of people in related fields to see what did and did not work, what made a theatre successful.
“The one prevailing theme that ran through almost all of their responses to me, the ones that were successful had some kind of a resident ensemble. Didn’t matter what,” Snow said. “Well, I thought, we’ll have a symphony.”
But that was just the beginning of Snow’s thoughts as she believes all arts went together.
“I’ve always had this holistic view of the arts,” Snow said. “How many times did you ever watch a dance program, and it didn’t have music?”
The theatre has started several dance programs that have since moved into their own buildings as they grew. Gospel shows, plays, participating in the national tuba Christmas and music lessons are a few things that have been and are currently offered or going on at The Ariel.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, the theatre adapted and moved to virtual lessons but is soon moving back to in-person lessons.
Snow said not only has The Ariel offered a place to enjoy music, but it has also offered a place to enjoy performing.
“Some people are just enjoying the fact that they got to study music for a little while and it gives them personal pleasure,” Snow said. “We make it available to them. We have the education programs in place teaching students. We go out into the schools… doing presentations. I look with pride at one of our very first violin babies that we started back in the early 90s in our street education program and she’s still out there playing.”
Snow encourages everyone to plan a visit to The Ariel sometime soon. She said there is something planned to fit everyone’s tastes. All show information is available on the theatre’s website. Snow said practices are open to the public to come in and check out.
“I knew that this was an important project and I knew it would happen and we’d have beautiful music and we’ve got this beautiful spot to make that music in and to share with the community,” Snow said. “That’s a real treat for me to get to share that and see people’s faces light up when they hear what we’ve got to offer, that’s a great gift.”
© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Brittany Hively is a freelance writer and graduate of Marshall University, with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism.