After almost 100 years in business, the staff at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater are planning several events to celebrate the theater’s centennial.
Jonah Crismore, the executive director of the theater, said the events will start in August 2022 and go through May 2023.
Crismore said the BCT was known for being a movie house for at least 75 years, but the staff also plans on investing more in concert events and restoring the marquee.
He said he’s excited about a new poet in residence program. The staff will invite local poets to display their poetry on the marquee, he said.
“I’m really curious to see how they’re going to use the limited space since the board only allows for so many characters,” Crismore said.
In the spring, Crismore said there will be a podcast festival where regional and national speakers will do recordings in front of a live audience, and in November, a gala for the theater’s anniversary.
In his two years at the BCT, Crismore said his favorite memory was the Iron & Wine concert in November 2021.
“It was our first kind of really sold-out show since the pandemic and it was just a heartening experience to have so many excited people come back to the theater and enjoy a concert,” Crismore said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced him and the staff to completely change how they ran the theater, Crismore said. For almost 19 months, there was less turnout and the theater began to dabble in virtual programming.
He said the virtual programming helped other organizations like the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra rent the space and feel safe while they performed. Since social distancing was important, they were able to spread the orchestra throughout the audience and create an impressive layout for the virtual concert, he said.
“We’re really grateful for our donors and stakeholders because we were able to stay relevant in the Bloomington community when we couldn’t have people in the theater or events on our stage,” Crismore said.
He said he fears some audience members might never return, but that he understands and hopes to appeal to perhaps younger and newer people in the community with the unique programming.
Lexi Rich, the marketing director at the theater, said at the beginning of the pandemic, the theater had to reschedule several times and partnered with Mandolin to provide virtual streaming services.
“For the most part, our events are just normal in-person events, but we have yet to see a full return where everyone is ready and comfortable to be back into the theater,” Rich said.
She said that people are very appreciative of the BCT’s COVID-19 protocols, but she knows that everyone feels differently and the staff respects that.
“We were doing what was in the best interest of everyone who’s coming into the theater, whether they worked here or just came to see a show,” Rich said.
Rich said the BCT is trying to find ways to honor history but also highlight the different communities and different work the theater does locally. She said patrons can look forward to a silent film series in the Fall in addition to other centennial related events.
“We care a lot about where we came from, and look forward to where the next 100 years will take us,” Rich said.
Ahmed Al-Awadi, an event associate at the theater, said he’s optimistic about the fresh perspective and experience the theater is planning to provide for the community.
“Every event is kind of its own animal,” Al-Awadi said.
He said the staff pays a lot of attention to the expected audience and plans concessions and other services according to what seems most appealing to patrons.
“Our mission focuses on a quality performance space that’s accessible to our community,” Al-Awadi said. “So with that, we’re going to have more diverse events and be a center for the performing arts and community.”