The Buskirk-Chumley Theater has changed significantly over the past 86 years, serving as a vaudeville theater and surviving a fire.
The theater’s role is changing yet again as it opens its doors to Monroe County third- and fourth-graders as an interactive learning environment.
The historic journey of the Buskirk-Chumley began with its construction in 1922 as a movie and vaudeville (British lighthearted entertainment) theater.
Originally called the Indiana Theater, the building endured damage from a fire in 1933, was sold to Kerasotes Theaters Inc. in 1975, and was given as a donation to the Bloomington Area Arts Council as a performing arts center in 1995. Now, the theater is in the process of planning a five-year history project set to begin in 2009, said Maarten Bout, the theater’s marketing director.
“In this process of development, we have been studying in depth the Buskirk-Chumley Theater’s history in Bloomington,” Bout said. “It will be a big research project that will feature everything related to the theater and performing arts here in town.”
The idea began in 2007 when the theater was celebrating its 85th anniversary. The Buskirk-Chumley team decided there should be a historic representation of the theater’s existence in Bloomington, so it organized a research project on the theater, and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater History Exhibit was born. The exhibit is now a permanent display on the second floor.
In 2008 the plans to launch a five-year, multi-tiered history project began, said Danielle McClelland, the executive director for the theater.
“This project will focus on the history of all of the theaters in Bloomington and the traveling circus in the Midwest,” McClelland said. “We plan on hiring researchers to help expand our knowledge on the history of entertainment in Bloomington as well.”
The project will allow Monroe County third- and fourth-graders to take part in interactive field trips where they can tour the exhibit, watch films and do activities about film in the 1920s, she said.
“It will really add to their education,” McClelland said. “Interactivity makes learning easier and more enjoyable for students. This will also be ideal for tourist groups and the Freshman Orientation Program.”
To help develop the curriculum for the project, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater decided to bring back the woman who organized the History Exhibit in 2007. Public history consultant Susan Ferentinos is looking forward to teaching children about Bloomington and the American past.
“Our hope is to bring in kids with different interests and different learning styles and have them get excited about history,” Ferentinos said.
Because the programs will take place inside the theater, students will be in an ideal environment to accompany their activities on the history of film.
“History is all around us,” Ferentinos said. “It’s in the movies.”