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.
With 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. I 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.
Inside 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)
Communities 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.