A small theater in downtown Lake Geneva has been collecting the memories of its community for almost ninety years. Since the early days, patrons of the Geneva Theater have taken their seats, popcorn in hand, eager to be entertained. The old theater bore witness to many memorable moments, from first dates, to much anticipated film screenings and live concerts. That’s why today’s patrons are so enthusiastic about the rebirth of the theater.
The Geneva Theater initially opened its doors in June of 1928. At the time there was one screen, used for films, in addition to a grand stage, which hosted live performances. The Lake Geneva Symphony made regular use of the space, and the theater became a center for cultural arts within the community. Over the years the live performances faded out, and the theatre dedicated itself entirely to films, until 2007, when the theater doors closed for good. Within a few years, the building was purchased once again with the intention of reinstating a place where live performances could take place. Unfortunately, the project was never completed, and the lights went out on the theatre once more.
Now, The Geneva Theater is coming back to life. Shad Branen, who also owns the Plaza Theater in downtown Burlington, purchased the Geneva Theater in April of 2016. He could see great possibilities for the building, despite its partial demolition and extensive water damage. These obstacles didn’t matter. “I was inspired by the potential that was here. So many people have stopped in to share stories,” he says. Daniel Colwell, who is the General Manager for both theaters, put in his two cents, alluding to the sheer history of the building. “It’s hard to put a dollar amount on history… Hearing people’s stories really gives you perspective,” he says. “We aren’t just making a movie theater, this is a place where people have memories invested. It’s really been a pleasure bringing it back to life and seeing the smiles on people’s faces, after not having been here for 40 years.”
Branen and Colwell have worked hard to utilize modern entertainment technology, while continuing to value the history of the theater and to maintain its past culture of art and community. As a result, The Geneva Theater will offer a unique experience to its beloved patrons. “It will be a marriage of the past and the forward-looking direction that the movie industry is moving toward,” says Colwell. The four fully restored theaters offer Sony Ultra HD projectors and 7.1 surround sound, as well as rocking leather seats with generous leg room. The theater will serve standard movie theater snacks, as well as beer and wine. In addition, they have partnered with Sprecher’s restaurant to offer a specialized menu, with items that can be delivered directly to your seat. Theater 1, also known as the Auditorium, has been completely renovated to its former glory, incorporating modern updates. Best of all, the fully retractable screen can rise up, thus opening up the beautiful historical stage, which will once again host live performances. Branen and Colwell hope to host the Lake Geneva Symphony on this stage, just like in the theatre’s past.[metaslider id=557]
But performances and movie showings are not the only thing Branen and Colwell have in mind. “In the same way that the Plaza, in Burlington, is focused on community and does free showings and events, we want to honor that spirit here in Lake Geneva,” says Colwell. As the theater is brought back to life, for both the performing arts and lm, Branen and Colwell are coming up with exciting new ways for people to experience the theater. “These movie tie-ins can be really exciting,” says Branen. His plan is to bring unique photo opportunities to the theater. From a permanent selfie booth in the lobby, to muscle cars parked outside for the opening of Fate of the Furious, the Geneva Theater will offer opportunities to transform the movie-going experience into special memories that can be captured and shared.
The Geneva Theater is unique in its dedication to the past, and simultaneous commitment to the ever-changing future. Shad Branen and Daniel Col- well have married the two concepts remarkably. The new incarnation of this old theater is sure to please all patrons, from those who grew up experiencing this historic institution, to those who are walking through the doors for the very first time. The Geneva Theater is the perfect place to relive old memories, while making new ones at the same time.
Photographer: Grant Goldenstern
By: Kinsey Quernemoen
244 Broad Street, Lake Geneva, WI
(262) 806-6108 | www.geneva4.com