What a Show

The Goshen Theater Brings a Variety of Programming to the Area

Writer / Julie Yates
Photography Provided 

The Goshen TheaterWhen city leaders in Goshen built a theater in 1905, the residents must have been excited and gratified that their efforts to attract the talent of the day to their beautiful venue had come to fruition. Through the years the building, now known as the Goshen Theater, served the community in several different ways. Once again, the recently renovated structure is capturing the enthusiasm of the community as it begins yet another phase of offering both entertainment and opportunities for volunteerism.

“This last renovation was the result of a huge community campaign,” says Susan Visser, executive director. Dedicated board members of Goshen Theater, Inc. worked on funding and finding mobile staging for sale. The community embraced the idea of the renovation to the tune of many millions of dollars.

Originally named the Jefferson Theatre after a famous actor of the time, it was only open for one year before it burned to the ground. It consisted of five storefronts. The theater took up three, and the other two spaces housed retail businesses. One of the shops was a furniture store and it is believed that the fire started there. 

By 1907 the Chicago architecture firm Patton & Miller rebuilt it. Only a few minor alterations were made and the building once again held a stage suitable for the touring vaudeville acts of the time. The theater boasted two balconies and seated 1,100 to 1,200 people. Good times for the theater continued throughout the 1910s and 1920s.

In 1948, the theater got a new lease on life when it underwent a major renovation and became a movie palace. The second balcony was removed, and in its place a projection room, complete with windows, was installed. It continued as the Goshen Theater, with several ownership changes through most of the 1980s. At the end of its existence as a cinema, it was showing second-run films at discount prices.

The Goshen Theater

By 1987 it had become a place of worship. The last congregation to own the building saw its membership plummet to just 30 people. It was unsustainable for the organization to continue owning it, and in 2013 the building was put up for sale.

Around that time, interest in the community began to grow around restoring the historic structure and continuing its legacy.

In 2014 a nonprofit organization, Goshen Theater, Inc., was formed for the purpose of purchasing the building. Enough funds were raised to acquire the property. It remained closed for one year as repairs were completed to make the theater compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“I was asked to be on the young board when they were doing the feasibility study before Goshen Theater, Inc. purchased the theater,” says Jerry Peters, technical director. “Afterwards I was the first employee and I made it my job to crawl around and discover just what we had bought.”

As the initial repairs progressed, some discoveries were made. In the basement level, a wall that had been erected by one of the church congregations was removed. Behind it was an old entrance that had been covered. Lighting fixtures and old tools were found. Another discovery was the original storefront windows from the 1900s. 

“There is an old painting backstage of a full-body silhouette of a woman wearing an old-fashioned period hat,” Peters says, when asked if there is any evidence suggesting the building might be haunted. “She is holding an object that almost looks like a cell phone of today. Each time the image has been painted over, she keeps returning and coming to the surface.” 

After the building was opened to the public in 2015, a few events such as free movies were offered to the public. Soon, efforts were set in motion to raise money for some major improvements. The successful Next Act fundraising campaign allowed the board of directors to complete a major renovation when the building temporary closed again in May of 2019.

The Goshen Theater

“Ironically, when the renovation was completed, COVID hit,” says Katie Barnes, audience services and front-of-house manager. “We were planning a 2020 summer camp and had to take it virtual. We did it in person in 2021 and attendance doubled. Now we are ramping up for expanded activities. We are planning a three-week summer camp and our Goshen Theater Drama Club is starting to meet once a month. The kids will do activities such as set painting, makeup techniques and brushing up on acting skills.”

The organization is always in need of volunteers. There are opportunities to usher, sell tickets, work on the technical side, and man the concessions area. People can sign up on the Goshen Theater website.

“We are at the point where we can create some original programs to involve the community,” Visser says. “People can participate in being part of the cast of community theater. We are excited for the community to participate and volunteer.”

The Goshen Theater is located at 216 South Main Street in Goshen. Visit goshentheater.com or call 574-312-3701 for information on events and volunteer opportunities.

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