Are we having fun yet?

famAre we having fun yet?

It’s been 10 days now since we passed the big 1 year anniversary of doors open for events and I’ve wanted to share some thoughts with you, but haven’t known where to start.  Today it hit me though!  Hearing Andrew Berlin speak about leadership, looking back through pictures of some of the events we had and noticing the packed calendar we have for the month ahead I was struck by how awesome this journey has been.  The key question is “Are we having fun yet?” Granted, there have been ups and downs and events where I haven’t known which way was up OR down, but the memories have been priceless and I’ve been having a heck of a lot of fun.

I confess to having never been to a burlesque show, Rocky Horror shadow cast or Brew & View classic movie prior to my time at the State, and boy was I missing out. Drew’s “Why Not?” attitude has brought so many quirky events to DTSB, giving me the chance to experience totally new things I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise, and introducing me to some really cool people.  Yes, we’ve had lovers and haters of our approach to renaissance but we’ve also provided a “home” to so many talented artists and performers who can shout from the marquee “#wearesouthbend” too!

I jumped in to volunteering at the State in the hopes of helping build community one low cost event at a time.  I simply wanted to find new ways for people to have fun.  I didn’t expect that it would look quite the way it has, but the innovative spirit that has come with each event has been inspiring. Not only are our performers having fun up there on stage, but the volunteers have been cracking me up and building a community of their own as they work behind (or not so behind) the scenes to keep things running (mostly) smoothly.  Our neighborhood has also grown closer as well with the Brew Werks Home Brew Store, Indiana Rug Company and Idle Hours folks working and playing together in our little corner of South Michigan Ave. There is nothing quite so delightful as sitting on a couch under the marquee on a warm summer day with Jack and Meredith chatting to folks about the upcoming events as they walk by wondering if The State SB is open yet.Presentation1

And the marquees! So many messages broadcast to DTSB giving voice to amazing opportunities and celebrating beautiful milestones with all those lights flashing.

We have come a long way in the first year (and 10 days) with chairs and lights and sound and booze and popcorn machines and stanchions and so much more.  All of that is good. But what’s even better are the memories we have made and the good times that have been had by all. If you haven’t made it down to the State SB yet, what are you waiting for? C’mon down and contribute to the ongoing history of this beautiful and vibrant community, housed in one of the best buildings in town.



One year ago today…

Happy Anniversary!  It’s been exactly one year since the doors of the theater first re-opened as The State, South Bend.  Ignite Michiana was the perfect way to usher in a new era for this classic and historic building, one built on community involvement, support, and celebration. Looking at the photos from the event still gives me chills and puts a smile on my face

Anniversaries are great times for reflecting. For me, it’s like the start of another cycle.  One that will undoubtedly not be the same and one that we hope will be better.  By looking back, we offer ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow.

The easiest place to start is with the numbers.  With the 50+ events we had last year and the 30+ so far this year, we are rapidly approaching our 100th event (yay for more reflection!).  Compare that against the 70 that the Morris held last year, granted they have much more complicated events and WAY higher attendance numbers (congrats to them being in the top 100 for the 7th year in a row!), and I’d say we’re definitely staying busy.

When I last did a look back in January as we reflected on 2013, I focused primarily on the accomplishments we’d made with community building.  Today as I look back, I want to take a different tact and talk about how I think we’ve contributed to entrepreneurship in the area.

I got a call about a week ago asking if we would be interested in potentially hosting the Lt Governor for a talk about entrepreneurship.  She was looking for places that were representative of the entrepreneurial energy in the city.  I was caught off guard a bit because I don’t often think about it that way but I know we’re trying to create a safe space for event entrepreneurs so it makes sense in that context.

As I was talking on the phone I mentioned the fact that a lot of the entrepreneurship in the city is oriented around entertainment. Again, this wasn’t something I had really thought on.  When people talk about entrepreneurship they seem to usually want to talk about technology startups but there are lots of ways to be an entrepreneur. One of the top things people want to see more of in downtown is retail and that’s going to take entrepreneurs, too.  It’s one of the reasons the entrepreneurs group 3 Degrees doesn’t have a focus on tech.

But the truth is that South Bend is full of entertainment entrepreneurs.  Think about all the events that occurred in South Bend for the first time in the last year: Ignite Michiana, The Color Run, South By South Bend, Circus of Art, Bittersweet Film Festival, Bizarre Coterie, Seitz & Sounds, Soiree En Blanc, Bazaar Sunday, Brew Fest.  That’s a pretty impressive list!  Add in the continued energy of things like Guerilla Gay Bar and there’s never a shortage of things to do in downtown.

And it’s not just the events that are growing, it’s the places to see them.  Take music for example. Used to be if you wanted to hear live music in DTSB you pretty much went to Fiddler’s Hearth.  Now you can see music every week at Chicory Cafe and LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern.  McCormick’s has been hosting a lot of shows as well.  Heck, they are even going smoke free for their next No Coast Social event (vol 8).  Who’d have thunk it?

So how does The State fit into all this?  Most obviously, we are another of those event venues.  The theater itself, when fully open including mezzanines and balconies, can probably seat 1500-2000 people.  The main level, at an occupancy of around 400, makes it easy to think of this as two spaces in one. There really isn’t anywhere else like that in the city.  Of course who can deny the historic charm of this beautiful building or overlook the memories of those who remember spending their childhood here.

Of course it goes deeper than just capcity and memories. As I said earlier, we’re trying to create a safe space for event entrepreneurs.  8 of the 10 new events I mentioned earlier took place, at least in part, at The State.  That doesn’t even include things like the renewed showing of Rocky Horror Picture show featuring South Bend’s very own Hot Patooties.  Not bad for a place that’s only been open a year!

How do we do it, you might ask? The answer may not be the obvious one.  None of the people involved here on a consistent basis, including myself, Mara, or Trish, are theater or entertainment people.  We don’t have backgrounds in music, movies, or dance but what we do have is big hearts and a passion for South Bend and seeing people succeed here.

Our recipe is simple: 1 part energetic entrepreneur and 1 part support from The State. We play to our strengths: we are open minded, we know how to work hard, we know how to change the marquee, we know how to get people excited, we know how to balance costs & expenses and we know how to learn and admit when we’re wrong (and believe us, we’ve been wrong and learned A LOT).

What we’ve found is that recipe works.  We’ve tapped into a wellhead of entrepreneurial folks who have great intentions and desire but just need a little support to get their idea off the ground.  Which is exactly what an incubator/accelerator should do.  Of course we can’t take on everyone’s ideas.  Sometimes we talk through an event and realize it’s just not feasible.  Sometimes we have events and realize they aren’t a good fit.  For example, if the event can’t bring in at least 100 people, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to show it here.  We’re just too big for that sort of thing.  Much like anything else, you live and learn.

So on our anniversary, we want to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped us get where we are today.  Volunteers extraordinaire, patient promoters, energetic entrepreneurs, rowdy Rocky Horror fans and all the rest of you out there who have supported us in one one or another.  You have our gratitude, our thanks, and we’re looking better to working with on making this place even better, one event at a time.




Weekly Wednesday Check-up

movie poster posting on fb

196 shares, 164 likes, 24 comments, 18,920 views

We’re a little more than half way through our Weekly Wednesday schedule and thought it was time to give a little update on the ups and downs of the movie biz here at The State. Just a little behind the scenes info if you will.

Weekly Wednesdays was one of our exciting new initiatives for 2014.  Movies are such an integral part of The State’s history and we wanted to take advantage of the great projector we had been able to purchase with the crowdfunding money.   After some good debates amongst our movie team members, we posted the movie schedule on Facebook on December 29th, 2013 and it quickly became the most viewed post in the history of The State.  Heck, it was shared more times than it was liked which we’d never seen before (or since).  Seemed like we had struck a chord of untapped interest. We weren’t quite dancing around saying “we’re rich” but the feeling was definitely upbeat that this would be come a new  South Bend tradition, like the Sunday Bazaar and Rocky Horror.

So 3 and a half months later, how has it gone?   Not quite as good as we had expected as attendance hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.  The biggest crowd, for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, was 60 people.  Even the mighty Casablanca (great show btw) couldn’t top it.  Most nights we’re watching shows with 30-40 people.

Attendance matters because all movies have to be licensed, whether you’re charging for it or not. Usually there is some flat fee component (a minimum) against some % of the gross for the movie.  With new release movies, the % can be as high as 95+% which is why you pay so much for concessions.

For second run movies, like the ones we are showing, the flat fee can range quite a bit but the movies we’ve chosen are usually less than $300. At $3 a ticket that means we need to get 100 people to break even on the licensing, ignoring utilities and that sort of thing.

Our goal was to get 50+ people to each showing and make up the costs with the usual mix of tickets, concession and alcohol sales.  Based on the initial response to the schedule posting we thought those attendance numbers seemed reasonable but so far we haven’t quite hit them.

There are some likely culprits.  Some people don’t like that it’s on Wednesdays but it’s really the only viable day for us to do it on a consistent basis. Movie selection will always be an issue. It’s something of a dark art, a mix of cost and personal interest and guessing what others want to see.  The weather outside has been horrendous, especially on Wednesday nights it seems, making it difficult for people to want to leave the comfort of their homes.  Not being well insulated or heated, the theater has been exceptionally cold, despite the heaters running nearly constantly, which can make it uncomfortable to sit through a movie in.  Believe me, we understand as we work in it every day :)

On the plus side I’ve really been happy to see people bringing in their own camping chairs, blankets, and sleeping bags to enjoy the movie.  I always love seeing how people continue to make the theater theirs.  It’s something I totally endorse and I’m sure in the years that pass we will all laugh about how you used to have to bring your own blanket to the movie.  Plus we’ve had a couple of troopers that have made it to all the movies!  We’re considering giving them free popcorn for life (well maybe not for life…).

mel brooks

I’m also really excited about Mel Brooks month.  This seems to be the one folks are really excited about and who wouldn’t be.  Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, History of the World…all hilarious movies with lines worth repeating.  They even make you think a little.  And the weather, it should be warmer.  We’re looking forward to more consistent highs in the 50′s and above!

Beyond Mel Brooks we’ve heard a lot of feedback about movies people wish we’d shown.  Great flicks like The Goonies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Big Lebowski, The Room, etc…  Because we listen to our customers we’ve decided to change it up a bit and open up the month of May to you, the viewer.  Call it Movies for Michiana.

Here’s how it works: You get to vote on the movies we’ll show by filling out this survey.  We’ve pre-populated it with some of the requests we’ve received but you can feel free to add your favorite suggestion as well.  We’ll give it a week for people to vote and then post the final tallies.  May will truly be Michiana’s Month!

The ones that don’t win will give us a good head start on the fall schedule.  Because this is a movie theater after all and showing movies, a huge part of its past, can, and should be, an equally important part of its future.

And if you love movies, don’t miss out on the River Bend Film Festival which is coming to The State on April 4th at 7pm with special guest Clint Howard!

Looking forward to seeing the results so don’t forget to vote for your movie favorites here.


South Bend News Times
July 2, 1934

Dillinger in South Bend?

I lived in sort of a time warp last summer as I worked with the State Theater Story Corps project. During the day, I was occupied with archives, interviews, and transcripts of dusty memories. I became the owners of the Blackstone Corporation or the ticket girl who was nearly swept away in a storm while she sold tickets to Mary Poppins in the ticket booth. In my off hours, though, I rejoined modernity and even volunteered at a few events at the theater. As I witnessed its everyday schedule, I began to puzzle through the theater’s new role in the community. It was as though it were being resuscitated after years of lifelessness, jolted into the modern world. I came to the conclusion that during that time of rebranding the State, South Bend was not sure whether to remember it or reimagine it. Many patrons recalled seeing movies there as a child or going to the State Theater Lounge in the early

2000s for line dancing and a beer. I came to realize that the marquee is vital to the State’s reintroduction to South Bend because for over 90 years, the marquee has been a constant. It fuses the old world with the new: current messages superimposed on an antiquated design.

As people drive by, they slow to look at the marquee, which is the undisputed visual centerpiece of the 200 block on Michigan Street. The pentagonal structure juts out over the sidewalk, and the burgundy red against the bright white of the building façade draws the eye. Architects who designed theaters in the early days of cinema were not just talented engineers; they were shrewd businessmen because they designed movie palaces based on the philosophy that “the shows starts on the sidewalk” (95). As soon as patrons stepped under the marquee, they were bathed in neon. It was the first part of the night’s entertainment. The marquee has evolved since its birth in the early 1900s. Formerly, it was delicate, flat, and provided detailed information in small print (Valentine 97). However, as the automobile staked its claim in American society, architects adjusted their designs to make marquees a sort of billboard for the vehicles passing quickly by; the letters grew, the information compressed, and the structure extended out over the sidewalk like a canopy (97).

It was a hot day in June of 1934 when a car full of armed men passed the State Theater on their way to rob the Merchants National Bank.

South Bend News Times July 2, 1934

South Bend News Times
July 2, 1934


We will never know whether they glanced up at the marquee as they drove by, but if they did, they may have noted the Saturday feature’s prophetic announcement of their arrival: Stolen Sweets. As the story goes, John Dillinger and his gang began to fire shots in every direction when they rushed out of the bank with $30,000. The police arrived more quickly than they had anticipated, so the men had to temporarily kidnap P. G. Stahly, the Vice President of the bank, and DeLos Coen, a cashier, to use as human shields (“Chief Avers”). The robbers escaped in their stolen car, presumably unscathed, but South Bend suffered. Stray bullets had wounded several bystanders, killed policeman Howard Wagner, and damaged structures on Michigan Street—including the State Theater marquee.

Recently, a reporter from the South Bend Tribune began a news story on the State Theater with this claim: “John Dillinger’s bullet holes are still there” (Harrell). It may be time, though, to set the story straight. In an article written just days after the robbery, the South Bend News-Times announced that based on eyewitness accounts, the police were “inclined to doubt” that Dillinger had been involved in the heist at all. Bank robbers are romanticized now as well as during their Depression-era reign of terror. They were folk heroes, taking back from the banks that robbed the public of their homes through foreclosure. It’s easy, then, to understand why South Bend would lay claim on a story that Dillinger, America’s Enemy No. 1, came to town. Did Dillinger shoot up the marquee or just the façade? The marquee, surely. What a mess, glass all over the sidewalk.

Even though it may not have belonged to John Dillinger, the bullet was real. Sunny McDonald, the State Theater manager at the time of the incident, found it atop the marquee (“Bullet Pierces Sign”). The details are murky for much of the rest of the day. Is that a bad thing? It’s not ideal, but I think we should be asking another question: What does this tell us about memory? I think the “Dillinger incident” reveals something important. Although we romanticize the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean the past was better. The robbery was, after all, a dark day for South Bend. The matter is more complex than that. We tend to invent what we don’t know, and that’s where lore grows. We return to the past because it still has a grip on our imagination.

by Erin Springer


“Building a Stronger Community, One Brew at a Time”

bw pictAs some of you may have heard, a little brewpub called South Bend Brew Werks is prepping to open in the State Theater building in about 5 weeks or so. A long time coming with permits and renovations and such hurdles to jump through, this has always been a part of the vision for the State.  The Brew Werks will bring Brew & View, specifically tailored beers brewed for special events, better food in close proximity and more energy to our end of S. Michigan while also contributing to building a stronger community.  THIS IS AWESOME. Under Drew’s leadership and the hard work of his fearsome team the vision will soon be a reality and I (Mara) can’t help but share my enthusiasm for it with all of you. As we enter the last 5 days of their crowdfunding campaign, I highly encourage you to head over to indiegogo to check out their amazing video, contribute if you feel so moved and just try to resist the enthusiasm for it that will surely strike you as well.

The Brew Werks will be operating as a triple bottom line business focused not just on profit, but people and the planet as well. This means they’ll be getting as many locally sourced ingredients as possible for their menu of gourmet flatbread pizzas, grilled cheese and mac & cheese. It also means that everything will be done sustainably; from re-using spent grains to energy efficiency to incorporating elements from the old Beacon Bowl & Ward baking facility to many other initiatives too numerous to mention in this brief blog post. It doesn’t get much cooler than that and will make for a really neat vibe in the pub.

Note also the name- SOUTH BEND Brew Werks.  The name wasn’t chosen just because they happen to be located in the city of South Bend, but because of a fierce civic pride and genuine desire to live up to their motto. In addition to contributing to local nonprofits, they’ll be contributing to the revitalization of DTSB and the growing vibrancy of our city. Stealing from their recent press release;

“… the South Bend Brew Werks is more than just a brewpub, it is a community focused enterprise dedicated to doing its part to continue the renaissance happening in Downtown South Bend. Their motto is “Building a stronger community, one brew at a time.” By contributing $.50 of every pint sold to community building partners, including La Casa de Amistad, The Music Village and Neighborhood Resources Corporation, the Brew Werks is putting its money to good use in the communities where we work and play.”

I can’t express enough how proud I am of Drew (the Maestro), Joel (Master of the Brew), Greg (the Culinary Ninja) and all of those who have made this venture possible. Not only will this be awesome for South Bend, but it will be fun and delicious (especially if you try the Go Orange! sandwich I’m creating…) for you too when you visit, especially this summer when relaxing outside with a refreshing seasonal pint made on site. I’m soooo psyched for the Grand Opening and encourage you to like them on facebook for news and updates. I look forward to toasting a frothy mug of community-building brew with you soon!

BTW- We have the coolest floor in town thanks to Chris Stackowitz and friends.

BTW- We have the coolest floor in town thanks to local artist Chris Stackowitz and friends.



Mr Elegante goes to ND

Flyer2 (1)

Last Friday I had the opportunity to speak at the Notre Dame MBA Net Impact Club’s Sustainability Symposium.  Fellow speakers included executives and founders from Patagonia the well known sporting goods manufacturer, Greater Good Studio a design firm in Chicago dedicated to tackling social problems, Dairy Management Inc a group that, among other things, helps sponsor the NFL’s Play 60 initiative, and A Safe Haven, a Chicago area non-profit that is fighting chronic homelessness and drug abuse, and winning.

I’m still not sure what I was doing among such an illustrious group of folks but I felt honored to have been invited. Talking with folks like these who have done so much is always energizing and the free flow of ideas helps spark my creativity.  Plus there’s that free dinner on Notre Dame’s dime.  As you may have heard, my belief is that free is always delicious!

My task for the conference was to run a case study group for about an hour and a half. I started off with an expanded version of my Ignite presentation to help people understand who I was, what I had been doing, and what they could do for me.  As I told them, it was a very Drew-centric presentation.  With a focus on sustainability, I had to come up with something that the attendees (mostly ND MBA students) could complete in a short time but that might have an opportunity to actually be implemented.

Last spring we had the opportunity to work with ND Business of Sustainability students on what sustainability at The State could look like, focusing on three key areas: HVAC, Waste Streams, and Social causes.  We’ve made good progress on the waste streams thanks to our trash hauler, Michiana Recycling, who does all the recycling sorting for us in a process known as single stream recycling.

But there’s always room to improve so for the case study I chose to focus on how to minimize waste from beverages because while it’s great to recycle it, it’s even better (from both an environmental and cost perspective) to not create the waste at all.

The students ended up with about 40 minutes to work out their ideas.  That’s not very long to work on something, but I was really impressed with what the participants were able to create, both in terms of the creative solutions and in how quickly they were able to assimilate the things that are important to me into their presentation.  With 90 seconds to present, they created posters for their ideas and gave me the elevator pitch on what it was and how it would help meet our goals.


Team number 1 came up with this reusable plastic cup.  I really liked the “one cup at a time” slogan as well as the I <3 State logo.  This group also did a really good job of defining other pieces we’d need to implement this solution.

IMG_20140215_104325Team 2 came up with this “F’in Goblets” concept.  Step 1 is hosting a fundraising event where people would pay to design a goblet, potentially ceramic, that would then get fired and hung up around the theater, creating a sort of art gallery of goblets.  People could then grab one of these and “rent” it for a show.  Using the mug would get you a discount and because the mugs would be constantly changing location, the display of them would as well.  Kind of like an ever evolving art exhibit.  I loved how this offered people the opportunity to add their creativity to The State as well as the boldness and moxie of the name.

IMG_20140215_104317Team 3 brought this creative idea using an existing camping cup product that is collapsible.  I’d never seen such a thing and was really excited about it. How cool would it be to see people wandering around the city with these hanging from belt loops and backpacks? I really liked how the design helped promote civic pride as well as the ways in which this campaign could extend beyond the boundaries of the theater.

After a difficult deliberation, we awarded the prize to the F’in goblets. All of the groups did a good job but the goblet team really excelled at applying the things that I thought were important about The State into their product idea and weren’t afraid to challenge conventions with their naming choice.  That’s the sort of thinking that has led to our success here at the theater.

So what’s your favorite idea? Think we could actually make these happen?  Let us know in the comments.  Who knows, maybe one day soon you’ll be watching a show and enjoying your favorite beverage from your own F’in goblet.



Don’t Dream it, Be it.

South Bend's Own Hot Patooties!

South Bend’s Own Hot Patooties!

There’s a cloud over the general opinion of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its band of highly devoted fans.  Those who attend midnight performances and yell at the characters while chucking toilet paper in the air are viewed as a group of oddballs with no lives and too much free time… and that’s just the audience. Members of a cast earn the reputation of being those weirdos who run around in their underwear in front of a couple hundred people every month. These impressions are merely superficial and require a little bit of digging in order to appreciate the cathartic and expressive outlets that they truly are.

It has always been my personal opinion that midnight showings are where all of the people who don’t fit in elsewhere can congregate and become the norm.  And then it becomes so much more than that because, inside the comfort and safety of a midnight showing, there is no norm, there is no constant. And because there is nothing to compare anyone to there is no judgment.  Anyone can walk into a showing of Rocky Horror and feel accepted.  That guy running around on stage in women’s negligée is a quiet and reserved person who spends Monday through Friday working an office job in finance. The girl yelling call lines in the audience has a massive fear of public speaking.  The audience members wearing as little as they can get away with are the types who are body-shamed on a daily basis because they don’t fit society’s perception of beauty.  At a midnight showing of Rocky Horror you can be whatever or whomever you want to be.  The movie’s tag line of “Don’t dream it, be it” is personified by every person in attendance.

I had cut my teeth going to midnight showings in my hometown of Louisville for years before joining the cast there.  I knew what I was getting into when I showed up for an informational meeting for a new cast starting up at The State Theater in South Bend…or so I thought.  I had lived in South Bend for almost two years before I walked into that meeting in August of 2013 and my impression of the city was not so great.  I had no friends; I only had a job and a small family consisting of my spouse and three animals that I spent all of my time with.  Now, I have the immense pleasure of hanging out with about 20 insanely beautiful people every week in rehearsals.  Then once a month we get to go in front of an audience and run around in crazy costumes while miming to a movie that’s nearing its 40th anniversary!  What’s not to love about that?

Getting in to character.

Getting in to character.

What can I say about the Hot Patooties?  That rag-tag group of people I call cast mates friends.  I can say that they’re some of the funniest, sharpest, and genuinely nicest people I’ve ever encountered.  I can say that, as someone who has been watching Rocky Horror for over a decade and has seen multiple casts, they put on one helluva show.  When it comes to shadow-casts, many struggle with the balance of putting on a technically proficient show and having a good time.  I’ve seen casts that have perfect costumes and everyone knows every part down to the smallest of gestures, but they lack any kind of life and energy.  Then I’ve seen casts with a ton of energy and no reverence for actually putting on a good show for their paying audience.  In my (somewhat) educated opinion, you’re seeing one of the finest midnight productions of Rocky Horror in the country when you come to see the Hot Patooties. You’re going to get a fantastic stage-show and you’ll have a good time watching it.

Joining the Hot Patooties has become my belated introduction to South Bend and the State Theater has become a second home.  I think that anyone who comes to our monthly offering of freedom of expression in a judgment-free zone will see all of these feelings (and more) exemplified in the energy presented on and off-stage.  We dreamt it, and we became it.

Check out the hot patooties on facebook at FB Hot Patooties and c’mon down to the State for our Lips & Lingerie show this Saturday, February 15th.

by John Magness


Play it, Sam

I went to a movie recently at the Normal Theater, an idyllic Art Deco venue in the heart of Bloomington Normal, Illinois. It is smaller than the State but run by an equally dedicated group of volunteers. Each time I see a movie there, I remember why I love theaters; the experience is different than viewing it in my own home. I pay more attention to the details, the crowd applauds at the end of the film, and the characters are somehow bigger in my mind. In a theater, the movie monopolizes all of the senses. Cell phones are silenced, lights are dimmed, and for two hours, all you know is the movie on screen and perhaps the person sitting next to you with whom (if you love them) you share a tub of popcorn.

 Ever since I was a small girl, classic film and the early movie going culture have fascinated me. I was raised on Ma and Pa Kettle instead of Nickelodeon, and my celebrity crushes in junior high were Wally Cleaver and the Fonz. I make movie references that only my sister would catch (though I miss just as many modern references), and the Hollywood figures I read about in my spare time are often as alive to me as the people I come into contact with each day. When people ask me why I love classic film, I can only say that I’m not sure how the fascination began, but the more I learn about film history, the more that love grows. Apart from its plot, each movie has its own creation story, and part of that occurs in the theaters where the films were first seen. For example, the State’s own Cosimo Rulli, district manager of Plitt theaters in the 1960s and ’70s, relates how going to see a war movie in South Bend changed his life:

 It was a long story why I joined the Air Force. I was workin’ at the theater, and in the movie Strategic Air Command, James Stewart, he plays pilot. He was actually in the regular Air Force, Jimmy Stewart. He was a regular colonel for a while, and he flew those B-52s, you know. Anyway, they had a recruiter in the lobby. And he got me all excited, say, You should join! What do you want to do, you go to college? I say, Oh, I said, I don’t have enough money to go to college. He said, I can fix it up for you. The Air Force, they give you an education and everything. Next thing I know, I’m in Chicago taking a test. (Laughs.) That’s why I kind of joined, I got all excited and all the air command and all that. I had a good time, though. I had four years good time.

 My single favorite part of a movie is its backstory. One of the age-old debates in psychology is whether we are a product of nature or nurture. John Locke, who believed we were born blank slates, would say that our experiences shape us; therefore, we are the product of our environment. The same basic principle applies to film: it is the product of the collected experiences of all the people involved in making it. A film is its artistic content and the story it tells, but beyond that, it is the lives of the actors, directors, set designers, and cameramen; the filming schedule that was not kept; the awards it almost won at the Oscars; and the cultural references that were born from it. Throw in elements like a world war or censorship, and the end product is even more complex.  And although my generation of millenials often dismisses classic film as irrelevant or inferior, most movies were in some way cutting edge at the time of their production.

 This Wednesday, on February 5th, Casablanca (1942) will be showing to kick of the Romance Classics series at the State. It won three Oscars at the time of its debut and has since been ranked among the best films of all time. Whether it is your first viewing or hundredth, the film is a must-see—especially on the big screen. And to enhance your viewing experience, here are a few snippets of the film’s wartime creation story (Warning! Contains spoilers):poster

On December 7th 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War. The next day a Warner Brothers reader began to evaluate the unproduced play “Everybody Comes To Rick’s” as a possible movie. It was perfect timing as studios raced to get patriotic pictures into production.

Howard Hawks had said in interviews that he was supposed to direct Casablanca (1942) and Michael Curtiz was supposed to direct Sergeant York (1941). The directors had lunch together, where Hawks said he didn’t know how to make this “musical comedy,” while Curtiz didn’t know anything about “those hill people.” They switched projects.

Many of the actors who played the Nazis were in fact German Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

Because the film was made during WWII they were not allowed to film at an airport after dark for security reasons. Instead they used a sound stage with a small cardboard cutout airplane and forced perspective. To give the illusion that the plane was full-sized, they used little people to portray the crew preparing the plane for take-off.

Producer Hal B. Wallis nearly made the character Sam a female. Hazel ScottLena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald were considered for the role.

Warner Brothers claimed that people of 34 nationalities worked on the film.

No one knew right up until the filming of the last scene whether Ilsa would end up with Rick or Laszlo. During the course of the picture, when Ingrid Bergman asked director Michael Curtiz with which man her character was in love, she was told to “play it in between.”


Rulli, Cosimo. Interview by Erin Springer. “Cosimo Ruli Interview.” State Theater Oral History  Project, Indiana University South Bend. South Bend, Indiana. 24 June 2013. Print.

-Erin Springer


Coming and going

Our friend Leonard's farewell
Our friend Leonard’s farewell

We recently said goodbye to Leonard Clifton, GM of the Doubletree hotel as he moved to Cleveland to be closer to his family.   He is a great guy who accomplished some wonderful things, among them a dramatic turnaround of the hotel from bottom 5% to top 5%.  He also won the 2013 Barnes & Thornburg Tourism Investment award  and gave back to his community as a Rotarian and a member of the board of directors for IUSB’s Sustainability Program.

Having lost two high profile people in the past year, including Tamara Nicholl-Smith of DTSB, along with active South Benders like Alex Mann, Shaun Christensen, Anton Murra, and (soon) Emma Parsons, one could reasonably be expected to be saddened.  I’ve heard folks mention that people just don’t stay in South Bend very long, that there is something wrong with this city because people don’t want to stay.  To be honest, this kind of evidence would seem to support that.

But really, there’s nothing wrong with South Bend.  We have to understand that as a mid-sized town at the crossroads of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. We will always have flux and flow.  People will always seek out things they can’t find here or want to experience the larger world and that’s okay.  We are a free and mobile society which means that Chicago and Indy and New York and Kalamazoo and every other city you can think of have the same kinds of issues and we can choose to look at it as a challenge or an opportunity.  I choose opportunity.

It’s an opportunity learn from them, be good hosts, share our passion for the area and help ensure that if they leave, they leave as ambassadors for the city, spreading the South Bend  Renaissance message to surrounding cities, states, and the world.  It’s also an opportunity to get them into an I Heart SB shirt and make sure they’ve got a shiny blue I Heart SB button.

Because really the truth is that South Bend is a wonderful place.  You can tell by how many people have been here they’re entire lives (“I remember when I came to see xxx at The State when I was growing up”).  You can tell by how many people have come back after going out into the big wide world, like our Mayor Pete.  By the number of university and college graduates, many of whom aren’t from here, who end up resettling in South Bend, like Willow Wetherall.  There are dozens of others including David Matthews, Dena Woods, Aaron Perri, Christianne Harder, Cathy Dietz, Mara Trionfero and Matt Teters who could choose to be anywhere but are super passionate about South Bend and working hard to make this place even more fantastic.

Next time you see that someone is leaving, don’t be sad and definitely don’t blame South Bend.  Just think of how great it is that they are taking advantage of the opportunity to grow, be glad for what they did while they were here, and look forward to meeting the next person who is just getting to know South Bend.  Because you know it’s going to happen and it’s your choice to look at it as an opportunity instead of a challenge.

Best wishes to Leonard and we look forward to seeing him again soon (and thank you to Jennifer Stephens for the inside info on his accomplishments).



Looking back on 2013

Our most popular marquee of 2013

Our most popular marquee of 2013

I’ve been contemplating how I wanted to piece this post together for some time now.  At various times I’ve attempted to sit down and right a State of The State type address to discuss everything that has been happening over the past year. Somehow I never quite managed to get the words down and time has run out so here we go!

2013 will always be a memorable year for me; memorable for the highs and the lows, the victories and the struggles, the laughter and the tears.  It was a growth year, a year that is full of chaos and stress but represents that time in life when you learn a lot because of the struggle, not in spite of it.  Dense with activity, not just at The State but in South Bend in general, the year felt longer than others.  Folks were talking to people in October about Ignite II and how the first Ignite was last year when in reality it had happened only 6 months prior, in the same year!  That’s how busy this year was.

So how does one look back on such a busy year?  What do we focus on when there is so much to think about?  We could look at it from a numbers perspective: More than 50 events hosted including the grand opening on March 28th with Ignite Michiana I and November’s Ignite II, 1000+ light bulbs, 3 new traditions started (Burlesque, Rocky Horror, Bazaar Sunday), 2 great interns, 100s of volunteer hours, 1000s of dollars in revenue, etc…

But those numbers really don’t paint the full picture or address the real reason we’re working so hard to make this happen. To do that, I have to go back to my reason for being here in South Bend, for choosing this city over Seattle and this job, that I knew almost nothing about, over one where I felt competent and confident. I had no business being the manager of a theater. I’m not a music person, a movie person, a theater person. I didn’t know anything about commercial real estate or dealing with contractors or city and county offices.  What I did know is that I saw an opportunity here to contribute to building a vibrant, strong South Bend; a city as strong as it ever was but with a uniquely modern identity that I could help define.  So what brought me here is the community and our ability to serve that community as it experiences a renaissance.

Devine 2With that as my criteria, how did 2013 go?  I’d say it went pretty darned well.  It starts with civic pride, with the cultural phenomenon of I <3 SB.  Just handing out buttons, wearing shirts, and putting it on the marquee seems to have given people permission to love this city in a way they haven’t in a long time. Even students (and statues) on Notre Dame’s campus are sporting I <3 SB stuff. Imagine that.

Community is alive and well at the shops at the theater.  You’ll find people from Idle Hours, Indiana Rug, and South Bend Brew Werks outside chatting during downtime, celebrating each others birthdays and playing with the kids of the store owners.  It’s a sight you won’t see anywhere else downtown and is really a hallmark to the environment we’ve tried to create. We are working together to make our entire block better and people are noticing.  nov ffI think the First Fridays in November was the first time it hit me.  I was outside and the marquee was fully lit up, 4 different groups were under or near the marquee playing music, fundraising, tap dancing, and generally having a good time. The entire sidewalk was packed with people smiling and enjoying their city. There was such a tangible energy where only a year before there had been nothing.  It was the first time I thought to myself: This might actually work.

1456764_608826815820660_207913429_nInside the theater we’re creating a number of communities. Our Rocky Horror shadowcast, known as the Hot Patooties, has brought together over 40 people whose love and passion for this quirky film have resulted in one of the best Rocky Horror experiences people have ever seen.  For me, the best part is how the group has really empowered the participants.  Personal statements on a private Facebook group talk about how life changing this experience has been for them, pulling them out of depression or giving them friends where they had none, and how grateful they are for the opportunity.  It’s impossible not to be touched by that.  Similarly, the Brick House Burlesque group has really taken to the theater as a home and are an integral part of our family.  We don’t have a problem with loving those who might be a little “weird” (including Drew)

IMG_20131208_094723Communities have also popped up with the Sunday Bazaar as vendors have gotten to know each other.  They talk about how much they enjoy the Bazaar experience, not just because they sell but because they’ve met such great people and feel like part of something amazing. This makes the Bazaar fun even when we have slow times and my favorite part of the event is walking around and talking with the different vendors who have fast become friends.

Of course it would be impossible to talk about communities at The State without mentioning our volunteers. This dedicated crew of individuals is what makes the theater hum and they, like so many others, have come to view this place as a home.  I’m unimaginably grateful for their efforts and view them as family members. With our expanded event schedule for 2014 we’re looking for more people to help out so if you’re interested in helping out please sign up.  There are opportunities to help with event days, marketing, event creation, and everything in-between.

There are also the community organizations who are looking to The State as a place to use for their own community building efforts. From charity fundraisers to cultural events the diversity of groups who think of The State as a place for them is amazing. One week we have transexual Santa on stage and the next week Jesus. Thinking about it makes me smile.

And who could forget the community of South Bend, of Michiana, who have welcomed us, cheered for us, complimented us…I daresay loved us. A broad cross section of this area, from kids to teens to young professionals to the newly young. So many have stopped by or sent an email or posted on Facebook to say “thank you, we love what you’re doing.”  We’re still working on getting all of those folks to attend events but even if they don’t, we appreciate their support and encouragment.

Built by the community,  with the community, for the community.  That’s what we’re doing here and it’s early but it looks like we’re being successful. 2014 brings the opportunity to expand, to empower more folks, to offer more affordable, out of the ordinary entertainment and to continue to help build strong communities.  Because at the end of the day that’s what really counts here.  Of course we want to make money and ensure this thing is long lived but if we are successful, and smart about it, we know the dollars will come.

Here’s to a great 2014 and we are looking forward to seeing what the year has in store! Want to be a part of it?  Become a volunteer or attend an event or 10 why dontcha.