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State Theatre turns 100 in Zumbrota

With another facelift on the way, the Zumbrota theater is ready for its next century.

Zumbrota State Theatre.jpg
Mike Billings, left, and Jeanne Freeman, of Stewartville, take a seat in the century-old Zumbrota State Theater in this Feb. 11, 2017, file photo. The theater turns 100 this year. Post Bulletin file photo
Andrew Link
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ZUMBROTA — For a century, the Zumbrota State Theatre has been the location for movies, music and artistic expression.

With luck, that'll continue for another 100 years.

"We would like to think that," said Bill Marx, president of the Zumbrota Area Arts Council, the organization that now owns the State Theatre. "Who knows what people will be doing in 2121. It would be great if it stays lively."

The arts council recently celebrated the theater's century mark as part of a fundraiser for a renovation project that will complete some of the work done in recent years at the theater.

Roxanne Bartsh, chairwoman of the theatre management board that reports to the ZAAC, said that about four years ago, the organization raised about $500,000 to expand the lobby, make the bathrooms more accessible, add a new concessions area, update the green room backstage and add a backstage bathroom for performers.

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"The women's restroom used to be upstairs," Marx said.

The changes make the State Theatre more of a venue for live performances. For example, the silver screen for movie projections can be moved, Bartsh said, to allow room for musicians onstage for musicals. And performers have expressed their approval of the backstage amenities.

The new campaign, Bartsh added, is looking to raise about $300,000 – they're halfway there – to finish some electrical work done during the last campaign, restore a mural in the lobby, make some other lobby renovations and renovate the seats in the theater.

It's been a long process, Marx said.

The previous owners of the State Theatre, Bob and Connie Hawley, began looking to sell the venue in 2008, so the arts council began raising funds, eventually hitting its goal in 2011.

Right away, Marx said, a new roof needed to be put on the building to stop it from deteriorating further.

"We had buckets backstage to catch the water when it rained," Marx said.

Waterproofing the basement, which had a "steady stream of water," was the next immediate concern.

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But then, Marx said, the goal was to take the State Theatre and make it into more of a performance venue.

Connie Hawley said the changing nature of the movie business meant the State's days as a first-run movie venue were coming to an end, thanks to at-home entertainment options such as Netflix and RedBox, and that movies were now digital, so the theater would have needed to purchase a $100,000 digital projector to keep up.

That just wasn't in the budget.

And while the State Theatre had long-been transitioning to more live events, especially through a partnership with arts center Crossings at Carnegie, there was still some work to be done. And, Hawley said, she and her husband knew it would need new owners to make those changes happen.

"We wanted right away to sell it to the local art council so it would remain a theater and not be turned into something else," she said.

Marx said the arts council was in a better position to raise money than the Hawleys had been, and many private donations and foundation grants made the restoration and expansion projects happen.

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And while the venue had been closed from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it reopened in September with a stage production by Zumbrota's local theater company, Z Theatre. There have been a few more dates since then – though they're still only seating at 50% capacity – and a few more are on the calendar through the end of the year.

Hawley said she is glad the State Theatre is in the hands of the arts council, and she's thrilled the century-old arts venue is being restored for the future.

"It’s part of the community’s history," Hawley said. "And without art what do you have? If you don’t have an expression of art in the world, that’s a pretty dull world."

Zumbrota State Theatre Information

To see what's happening at the Zumbrota State Theatre or to donate to its current capital campaign, visit the Zumbrota Area Arts Council website at zaac.org .

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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