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Kalamazoo State Theatre renovates, reworks marquee

Hinman Company - State Theatre Kalamazoo Lights

Kalamazoo’s State Theatre is spending money to make money.

Executive director Stephanie Hinman is in the midst of a renovation at the historic theatre that includes refurbishment and relamping of the marquee, removal of old curtains, rearrangement of some seating, cleaning and repair of dressing rooms, removal of old fixtures and replacement of cables behind the scenes.

The work started with fixes that addressed the safety and integrity of the building and has moved on to production systems.

The reason for the activity, which began this summer: “We’re putting money into it in hopes we can get our money back,” Hinman told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

“We hope more people buy tickets and when more people buy tickets to the shows we’re able to provide this experience for everybody,” she said.

Hinman’s father Roger Hinman put her in charge of the building and guiding its update in April. Her wish list of improvements could cost up to $5 million. Some of the work that’s already taken place includes painting and recarpeting the green rooms and fixing a roof leak. She’s considering adding air conditioning, which would allow the theater to operate in the summer.

One of the most visible current renovations: putting new curtains on the stage.

“The materials are one thing, the installation is another,” Hinman said. “They don’t just cut them down. We had to demo the old ones. It’s a process. Everything is weighted and balanced.”

Along with the actual curtains, workers have been replacing old ropes with new cables for operating the curtains, with workers cleaning as they go along and salvaging what they can of old materials.

Jacob Wargo, production manager at the 1,500-seat theater, said one thing they wanted to save was the original fire curtain from the theater, which was designed by Chicago architect John Eberson in 1927 for $350,000.

“The fire curtain was a signature item in all of his theaters,” Wargo said. “His go-to thing when he finished every theater was to put a mural on the fire curtain. He’s got about six of these Spanish courtyard theme curtains. The Palace in Gary (Indiana) is almost identical to this.”

Back stage, workers have also removed old lights, many of which were wired with old asbestos wiring and work is being done to disconnect the huge old light panel.

“My god, I love the panel. It’s really sweet,” she said, but it has to be moved to create more room, where space is at a premium.

Hinman said that during the renovations, she discovered something she never knew about the theater — that there are a lot more dressing rooms and bathrooms than she knew about.

“There are about 20 dressing rooms and I kept finding bathrooms,” she said. “I’d say, ‘What’s this door? What’s this door? Let’s unlock this door. And then I’d be like, ‘Wait, there’s a toilet in here’ or ‘There’s a shower in here.’ ”

Story written by Linda Mah – Kalamazoo Gazette

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