CCLAA planning for future of Ray Evans theater in Salamanca

The board of the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Ray Evans Seneca Theater renovations, but are looking for the community’s help in planning for its future.

SALAMANCA — While the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of renovating the Ray Evans Seneca Theater, the group is also looking for contributions of time and money in its hope to continue offering performances in the future.

While the CCLAA’s board of directors asks local residents to recall the history of the facility and those who renovated it, its members continue to offer live theater, looking to the community for its assistance to do so.

The theater, originally built by the Schine Chain, was designed by John and Drew Ebersol. Construction began in 1941, just before the outbreak of World War II. Because of a shortage of building materials caused by the war, construction was not completed until 1945.

Expenses for the historic building’s upkeep, along with utility costs and fees associated with putting on productions, have strained the organization’s coffers.

Despite that, the CCLAA board members believe the theater is important to the community.

“It exposes theater to children and the community,” said Sue Fries, CCLAA treasurer, who noted not everyone can afford to go to New York City or even Buffalo to be exposed to theater.

The CCLAA continues to offer theatrical performances that draw hundreds into the city while offering area youth the chance to perform and learn about theater. The facility is also rented to others, such as the Seneca Salamanca Chamber of Commerce, which shows free movies to the area residents.

“Productions offered here are as good,” said Linda Freaney, CCLAA president. She said there are many talented people in the area. Not only can people enjoy those talents at the theater, but the facility also provides a place for them to showcase talents, she said.

“It’s a positive alternative,” said Fries about what youth can be part of at the theater.

In June 1972, the auditorium ended up under eight feet of water that accompanied Hurricane Agnes. The theater was abandoned until the early 1980s when it was renovated and became the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association’s home. It reopened in 1989.

It was renamed the Ray Evans Seneca Theater, after the award-winning songwriter, Ray Evans, of Salamanca, known for songs such as “Silver Bells.”

Providing more activities is a goal of CCLAA board member Glenn Wahl. He said the theater can provide a place for a lot of events, not just musicals.

In order to provide that, however, CCLAA board members agreed help is needed to keep the theater as successful in the future as it has been in the past.

Everything from grant writers to seamstresses, painters, set constructors, light, sound technicians and more are needed.

Those interested are asked to call Freaney at 945-1996.