Dear Friends of the Ephrata Cloister,
The amphitheater at the Ephrata Cloister is coming back to life, and we need your help. This revitalization project, led by the Ephrata Cloister Associates, will be funded solely through sponsorships and donations from people like you.
- People who understand the impact a gathering space like this can have on our community.
- People who share a deep connection to the Cloister through volunteering or family ties or fond memories of time spent in the old amphitheater.
- People who want to be a part of something that can have a lasting impact on the community for generations as a place for performance, for learning, for creative expression, for weddings, and just for quiet contemplation.
We are asking you to become a part of this project and help us to breathe life into this promising slope on the corner of the Ephrata Cloister.
Read on to learn more about the project, the vision of the ECA, the work that lies ahead, and your role in making it happen.
Watch the new video of the Revitalization of the Ephrata Cloister Amphitheater The video, featuring exclusive drone footage by Gabriel Mink, is narrated by Broadway (Hamilton, Merrily We Roll Along, Spring Awakening), TV (Glee, Mindhunter), and movie (Frozen, The Matrix Resurrections, Knock at the Cabin) star Jonathan Groff. Jonathan, a graduate of Conestoga Valley and a fan of the Cloister, will tell you all about the project and how you can join him in supporting the revitalization of the amphitheater.
The Amphitheater of Ephrata Cloister
Tucked away in the corner of Ephrata Cloister property is a long grassy slope with some curious buildings lying at its feet. It’s not an original part of the 300-year-old historic site where Ephrata began, but it is an integral part of the site’s story. It holds memories, not of the Brothers and Sisters who lived close by, but of recent celebrations of weddings, music, and friends. It is the foundation of the old amphitheater, and it’s ready to be brought back to life.
The Amphitheater’s Rich History
The amphitheater was originally constructed in the 1960s to host performances of The Vorspiel, a theatrical production that ran weekends in summer months for over 25 years. Featuring the music of the Cloister, this love story between a Revolutionary soldier and the Sister who cared for him was seen by tens of thousands of visitors. Eventually the amphitheater became a wedding and gathering space before gradually falling into disrepair. The weeds got the better of it, the benches succumbed to time, and the spot sat idle.
A Vision for Revitalization
Now, with a forward-looking and revitalized Ephrata Cloister Associates leading the project, the space is set to be reimagined as a new amphitheater. Even though the slope lies bare, it’s easy to imagine it transformed into a vibrant gathering place. Concerts on the stage, music filling the airy space. Plays set against one of the most iconic of backdrops. Happy couples exchanging vows in an intimate setting. Families gathered on blankets, benches, and lawn chairs or perched on the stone terraces that will edge up the slope. A place for quiet reflection after a walk on the grounds, all accessed by smooth walkways that will bring everyone together.
In the early 1960s, the Ephrata Cloister Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Russell Getz, performed a pageant of Cloister music in the space between the Saron and Saal. This summer evening musical drew visitors from across the region. The Vorspiel grew in popularity, and as the audiences increased, a new performance space was needed. In 1963 an amphitheater was constructed on the eastern side of the property. Wooden benches were installed, and miniature versions of the Sisters’ House and the Saal were built to set the stage.
The last performance of the Vorspiel was presented the summer of 1989, but the amphitheater continued to be used as a wedding venue until the Covid pandemic in 2020 closed the site. The space saw several renovations over the years, but eventually it fell into disrepair and sat idle, a lost community resource, until now.
In 2020, a new ECA Board took another look at the space, saw the potential for revival that lay hidden beneath the weeds, and began to explore the possibilities. In 2021, the revitalization project began in earnest, spurred on by a $100,000 donation from an unnamed donor who has a heart for the Cloister and sees the profound potential community benefit in bringing this corner of the historic property back to life.
The Board has enlisted the services of Landscape Architect Rick Jackson with ELA Group, Inc. of Lititz to design, manage and guide the ECA board through this complex project.
Although the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania owns the property, ECA has entered into an Agreement with the Commonwealth acting through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for the renovation of the amphitheater at Historic Ephrata Cloister. This agreement permits ECA to manage and supervise these improvements to Ephrata Cloister. The success of this project lies with us, and we are determined to transform the space from an unappealing and inaccessible distraction to a beautiful usable asset. All monies spent on the renovation will come from donations, fundraising, and sponsorship. No Commonwealth or federal funding will be used for the project.
The new amphitheater will be accessed via an ADA-compliant paved walkway extending from the Carpenter’s House into the first two levels of seating and to the stage, creating a performance and seating space without restrictions. Each level of seating will feature stone terraces, ten feet deep, that will accommodate benches, lawn chairs, or blankets, providing flexibility, easy access, and simple maintenance. Seating on the stone wall itself will allow for spontaneous gatherings. A center walkway lit by LED lights will reach through all four terraces.
The stage area will be accessible from both a side pathway and a center pathway that leads directly up the center steps. The stage, composed of both pavers and slate already present at the site, will be backed by the current set buildings, which will be retained but refurbished by volunteers.
In the final phase of construction, lights and a sound system will be added, putting the finishing touch on a spectacular performance and gathering space.
Total seating capacity will be fluid with space for 250 to 350 individuals, more with flexible lawn seating.
Total cost for the project is estimated at $350,000. Our goal is to keep costs moderate and in line with donations.
The revitalized amphitheater will serve as:
- A striking venue to hold special events, concerts, theatrical productions, lectures, meetings, conferences, and educational programs.
- An outdoor classroom for school and group tours.
- A space for community engagement and celebration of life’s events.
- A distinctive rental space and source of revenue for the ECA.
- A catalyst for growth in attendance, interest, and tourism opportunities.
The goals of the revitalization of the amphitheater are:
- To enhance the visitor experience on the site by creating an aesthetically pleasing gathering and performance space that offers both quiet meditation and lively community engagement.
- To cultivate positive relationships with the community and local businesses by welcoming them to the site.
- To encourage social interactions necessary to maintaining a healthy quality of life.
- To create excitement among the ECA, PHMC, and the community as we work together to invigorate tourism in Ephrata and Lancaster County.
- To engage a donor/sponsor base that will embrace the Cloister through future endeavors.
- To preserve the recent history of the museum property, thereby perpetuating the impact of those who seek to maintain the community significance of the site.
- To instill pride in our community.
The Ephrata Cloister Associates will:
- Address slope and drainage issues through terracing and/or other landscape methods.
- Make the area accessible and meet ADA requirements.
- Lessen the required maintenance of the amphitheater through careful improvements.
- Install a larger stage as a focal point of productions.
- Install a lighting and sound system appropriate to the size and use of the venue.
- Consider the natural environment, native plants, stormwater issues, property preservation, and advantageous usage in the design and layout of the facility to create a space that blends well with the character and dignity of the Ephrata Cloister.
- Raise and solicit the funds to make this dream a reality.
- Make all this possible with your donation!
The structures at the back of the amphitheater stage are miniature versions of the Saron and Saal, designed as a backdrop for the drama on stage. They were built in the 1970s to replace an early two-dimensional stage flat and hold no historical significance to the site. As a part of the revitalization project, the buildings will be cleaned and repaired and used as storage or wing space for productions on the outdoor stage.
The tall end wall of the “Saron,” which faces the entrance walkway, will serve as a Donor Recognition Wall of Honor. Highly visible to the audience and accessible by a paved walkway, this wall will honor donors who have supported the construction of the amphitheater with gifts of $1,000 or more.
All gifts of $25 or more will be recognized and recorded in both a printed and digital Donor Book of Honor that will be housed in the Visitor Center and on the Cloister website and will include dedications made in honor or in memory of people who have a heart for the Cloister and wish to create a lasting impact.
Donations will be grouped, sized, and arranged accordingly
For more information regarding the revitalization of the amphitheater, please contact Sue Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or (717)733-6600. The team will be happy to share and discuss design plans and other pertinent pieces of information to determine how you will have the greatest impact on this project.
The Householders played a crucial role in the formation of Ephrata and continued to influence the development of the borough that grew from those humble beginnings. Therefore, it is fitting that we pay tribute to the Householder families in the construction of the amphitheater by naming the terrace walls in their honor. If you are a descendant of a Householder family or hold one in great esteem, please consider funding a section or entirety of stone wall, either as an individual or as a family or heritage group. The wall will then display a plaque bearing the family name. It will be a lasting and highly visible way to pay homage to the early founders of Ephrata and to thank them for their inspiration.
To donate a section of wall, please contact Sue Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your wishes and the cost per lineal foot of wall. We will work together to honor your Householder name.