InTents December/January 2020 - 8

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Tenting a tent
ig Top Chautauqua in Bayϐield,
Wis., has never just retired a tent.
The performance venue has operated
summer-long on the shore of Lake
Superior since 1986, and every allcanvas tent theater the venue has
acquired stood until Mother Nature
intervened-once with ϐire, twice with
hailstorms and once with wind.
When the latest tent was ϐirst installed
in 2014, the Chautauqua organization
expected it to last about six seasons.
Going into the sixth season in the spring
of 2019, the organization's board had a
frank discussion about the state of the
tent, which had been leaking signiϐicantly.
Phillip Anich, Big Top Chautauqua's
"canvas master," theorizes that modern
canvas and thread don't "swell" the way
fabrics of the past did. But the organization
remains attached to the tradition and
acoustical properties of canvas over vinyl.
"The argument I made to the board
this spring was that we have a tent that's
been compromised by the UV, but it still

B

A Sprung structure (upper photo) was
installed over Big Top Chautauqua's
6-year-old all-canvas tent (lower photo)
prior to the 2019 season to protect the
venue and music lovers from leaks and
severe weather. Photos courtesy of Lake
Superior Big Top Chautauqua Ltd.

8 intents

dec 2019-jan 2020

looks ϐine; it's pretty and it has wonderful
acoustic properties, and it's part of who
we are. We are a tent show," Anich says.
The solution Anich and the board
agreed on was to place a Sprung
structure-in the same colors as the
canvas-over the tent. The 200-by90-foot structure, by Sprung Instant
Structures Ltd., ϐits well on the site's
pitched topography. The panels go all
the way to the ground on the stage
end and terminate 8.5 feet from the
ground around the rest of the building,
leaving the tent with an open feel. Rated
for 90-mph winds and heavy snow
loads, the structure is a "permanent"
solution, giving the organization time
to determine the future of the show and
raise funds for the next venue.
"When you are in the tent, the big
building goes away at night," Anich says.
"It's dark out; you can't see it, but we
have a ring of light that goes around the
structure, and then we have a secondary
ring of light that goes around the tent.
You don't even know you are in a
different environment aside from the fact
that you are dry. I kid people when I'm
announcing the shows-I'll say, 'Those
of you that are nostalgic for the old days
when you could sit on your seat and get
your butt wet, we have volunteers over
here with spray bottles.'"
The 900-seat Big Top Chautauqua
is one of the last examples of what
President Theodore Roosevelt called
"the most American thing in America."
Dating back to New York State in the
late 1800s, chautauquas once traveled
around the country, particularly to rural
areas, bringing communities together
under a tent for education, music,
religion and politics.
With its protective Sprung cover, the
canvas tent stood tall through the 2019
season, hosting performances by the
likes of Judy Collins, Rosanne Cash, Lyle
Lovett and Brandi Carlile.



InTents December/January 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of InTents December/January 2020

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InTents December/January 2020 - Cover2
InTents December/January 2020 - 1
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