Small Business Spotlight: Bristol Valley Theater

Updated: May 30, 2020

As the world struggles to maintain (and create) normalcy, and with millions of Americans out of work, we believe that supporting small businesses is a great way to take action and make a big impact. Every Saturday, WDID features a company that we love in the Small Business Spotlight series. It should be no shock to anyone that live performances have come to a full halt due to COVID-19. This week we're chatting with the Bristol Valley Theater in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York.

Bristol Valley Theater

"Live from New York, to the Finger Lakes"

Interview with Executive Artistic Director, Karin Bowersock

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What is Bristol Valley Theater (BVT)?

For 56 years, Bristol Valley Theater has provided live professional theatrical entertainment for a rural, regional audience in central New York.   Nestled in the charming village of Naples, in the Bristol Hills of the scenic Finger Lakes region, our intimate, 200 seat performance space features outstanding professional artists drawn from New York City and around the country in live performances from May - November, and theater arts education for area children. At the heart of the programming is BVT's summer season of 6 plays and musicals, which includes fresh takes on the classic summer stock repertoire, contemporary plays and new work.

What is the story of your business?

Bristol Valley Theater, in operation for over 50 years, balances a rich history --including a loyal audience base that have made it a part of their summer for decades--and an eye toward the new, including our New Works Initiative which features one world premiere production each season, a series of developmental readings, and original solo shows. Along with out six play summer season, we present arts and humanities events in multiple disciplines (theater, concerts of folk, jazz, world and pop music; comedy, spoken word, film, historical lectures). As the only professional producing theater in a 50 mile radius, we serve a diverse and, in many cases, economically challenged audience that might not otherwise have access to professional arts programming. The theater also serves as a driver of the local economy, hosting 7500+ visitors per year and generating an estimated $1.7 million in economic activity in the local economy.  But what we are most proud of is the sense of community that surrounds the theater, a community of gifted artists that return year after year for the opportunity to create with each other, and the remarkable community we serve, who feel a strong connection to the work, the artists and the theater's mission. We believe that every community needs a theater, as they need a hospital a grocery store or a library, and we a proud to be the cultural hub of our community.

How has Covid impacted your business? 

Covid 19 has shuttered our theater for live performances and children's educational programming. Initially we thought we might only have to cancel our spring series of concerts, theater events, and children's classes were canceled. Initially we proceeded as if our 6 show summer season could move forward. We cast the 6 plays and musicals (from online auditions as we could not travel to New York City, as is our custom, to cast the plays) and contracted over 50 actors, playwrights, directors, designers, and technicians to create our summer programming. These artists, hired from NYC and around the country, would normally travel to Naples and be housed in the homes of community members during contracts that could be from 1 - 12 weeks. Clearly, with NYC an epicenter for Covid, and with most states on some form of lockdown or travel restrictions, traveling, and the model of housing artists in our community's homes was out of the question. Add to that the uncertainly that it would be safe for audiences to gather at ANY point this summer: our board of directors and staff made the only safe decision to cancel our entire summer season.  Our administrative staff (of 3) moved operations to work from home as of March 18. We do venture (one at a time) into the office several times a week, chiefly to care for Atticus, the office cat, and to maintain communications with our patrons. We've been greatly fortunate to receive continued support from our two largest corporate sponsors, Constellation Brand and Canandaigua National Bank, as well as foundation support from The Sands Family Foundation, The Max and Marian Farash Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. We have also received remarkable support from individual donors--the same loyal community that has kept us going for over 50 years. This support, along with a Paycheck Protection Loan through the CARES act, has enabled us to keep our staff employed, rent paid and lights on.  We have re-imagined our 2020 season as BVT at Home, a series of online theatrical events that our patrons can enjoy from the safety of their homes.  The series launched May 16 and will continue through August. It will feature many of the artists who were originally engaged to participate in our scheduled season, and it will lean heavily on new plays.  We're currently working with other area businesses, the Finger Lake Visitor Connection, and state and local guidelines to find a way in which we can reopen safely for public gatherings, and how those gatherings may alter in the wake of Covid-19.

What is the best way for people to help your business during Covid Closures?

People can help Bristol Valley Theater by making a donation (many are tax-deductible) here or by buying a ticket to enjoy any and all of our BVT at Home presentations. A full description of programs here  Online ticket sales for each event open now or will open soon. Prices range from $10 - $15. Ticket holders will be sent a link and password prior to the premiere of each production. Each production will be available for viewing for 2 - 4 weeks after the premiere date. Visit throughout the summer for additional updates on added programming.

*Action Step*:

Make a donation or buy tickets for the upcoming online season at

Where can we find you?:

Staff Spotlight:

BVT's full-time staff included Karin Bowersock, Executive Artistic Director; Katelyn Machnica, Associate Artistic Director;  Angela Eichwachter, Office Manager; and Atticus Finch, Office Cat. Learn more about them here:

Editor's note:

My first season working with BVT was almost ten years ago. Though I knew no one else working there at the time, I'll never forget my first night in Naples. Before even seeing my accommodations, I saw the opening night performance of an absolutely electric Cabaret that left be rattled to my core. And later, at the Tavern (read "The 'Tav") I was welcomed into the fold immediately with a strong embrace by people I still carry with me today as close friends. That night, BVT became a part of my artistic DNA. Karin, Naples, and the BVT community have impacted me, my work, and my love of quality heart-filled live performance. - David Kimple

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Photos by Rich Miller in order of attachment:

  1. The theater in summer

  2. Art by Yasmina Reza, directed by Karin Bowersock, Scenic design by Shelley Barish, Costume design by Elizabeth Porter Woods, Lighting design by Daniel Winters

  3. Peter and the Starcatcher,  by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, directed by Karin Bowersock, Scenic Design by Tim McMath, Costume design by Danielle Preston, Lighting design by Justin Partier

  4. The Drowsy Chaperone book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, directed by Karin Bowersock, scenic design by Tim McMath, Costume design by Danielle Preston, Lighting design by Paul Arnold

  5. Who is Theo? by David L. Kimple, directed by David E. Shane, Scenic design by Tim McMath, Costume design by Samantha J. Miller, Lighting design by Daniel Winters

  6. Little Shop of Horrors music by Alan Menken and lyrics and a book by Howard Ashman, directed by Benjamin Viertel, scenic design by Bryce Cutler, Costume Design by Sean Sullivan, Lighting Design by MaryEllen Stebbins

  7. Fully Committed by Becky Mode, directed by Chris J. Handley, scenic design by Christopher and Justin Swader, Costume Design by Emily Liberatore, Lighting design by MaryEllen Stebbins

  8. The King's Legacy By Michael Radi, directed by Chris J. Handley, Scenic design by Justin and Christopher Swader, Costume design by Samantha J. Miller, Lighting Design by MaryEllen Stebbins


  1. Photo of Karin Bowersock (photo by Emily Haan)

  2. Photo of Katelyn Machnica (photographer unknown)

  3. Photo of Atticus the cat (photo by Karin Bowersock)

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