The Front Porch: A question that divides generations of Chautauquans: Amp or Amphitheater?

Column by John Warren

A funny thing happened in the years I was away from Chautauqua. The Amphitheater lost a few letters.

I don’t recall anyone calling it “the Amp” when I was a kid. So I’m officially casting a dubious sideways glance at its purveyors, and I’m not the only one.

“Amp is an electrical term,” Wendell Thompson said.

“It sounds like it could be a rock band,” Ron Kushmaul said.

They were among the 50 people who took part in my survey outside the Brick Walk Cafe. I asked passersby simply, “Amphitheater, or Amp?”

Of 50 respondents, half said they refer to the Amphitheater by its full name. Fifteen (30 percent) said they use Amphitheater and Amp interchangeably.  Ten of the 50 (20 percent) said they usually refer to it as “the Amp.”

Kushmaul is retired from AT&T, where he watched work attire go from dress shirts and ties to jeans to shorts. Then came email, and the guy four doors down favored that over walking to his office.

Amphitheater/Amp — it’s the same thing, he said. Shortcuts.

“The casualness; this is what’s happening in the world,” Kushmaul said.

“People are lazier,” said Thompson, who also voted “Amphitheater,” along with his wife, Carolyn. “It seems like the more something gets used, the shorter it gets.”

Nineteen-year-old Melissa Sprague was playing the Phase 10 card game Tuesday with some buddies in the tented no-man’s land between The Brick Walk Cafe and the Chautauqua Bookstore.

“Younger people say ‘Amp’ because we tend to shorten everything,” Sprague said.

Her five friends — like her, off-the-clock Brick Walk Cafe employees — agreed. Nonetheless, those under 21 (16 percent of the sample) were split almost evenly among Amp/Amphitheater/using both names interchangeably.

The voting was, however, influenced by age and duration as a Chautauquan. Fifty percent of respondents over 60 use “Amphitheater,” with 25 percent using Amphitheater and Amp interchangeably and 25 percent using “Amp” primarily.  Of those who have been coming to Chautauqua more than 25 years (20 percent of those surveyed), no one uses “Amp” exclusively. Half of that group use only Amphitheater, and half use the terms interchangeably.

To my surprise, some of the longest-term Chautauquans swore they’d never even heard of this “Amp” business.

“ ‘Amp’ seems too New Age,” said Chris Nieman, who first came to Chautauqua in 1964, where he worked at the St. Elmo.

“I think of it as so full of culture and history, and Amp is modern,” Lorraine Walker said.

Charlotte McGowan suggested a compromise: “To outsiders, I refer to it as ‘The Amphitheater,’ ” she said. “Once they’re Chautauquans, I call it ‘The Amp.’ ”

Jennifer Jansen works for the Institution’s Program Office and oversees Amphitheater ushers.

“I might say, ‘I’m leaving the office to head to the Amp,’ but in a job description, it’s ‘Amphitheater.’ ”

Andrew Hemphill is OK with either, too. But standing outside the erstwhile Refectory, he conceded that another issue was taking precedent.

“What happened to the black raspberry ice cream?” he asked, recalling his boyhood in 1940s Chautauqua. He laughed and added, “The place is really going downhill.”

John Warren is a writing coach and columnist for The Chautauquan Daily. You can reach him at johndavidwarren@aol.com