After receiving more than $309,000 in donations, the Benson Theatre nonprofit purchased the neighborhood’s historic vaudeville theater with plans to restore its classic stage. The nonprofit leased the theater building from April 2012 to August 2014 while raising funds to buy and restore the landmark to serve as a shared community space for business education and artistic performance.
Centrally located in the flourishing Benson business district, the Benson Theatre building has sat empty for years. The Benson Theatre will offer independent programming and will serve as an alternative stage in north Omaha for the metro’s existing nonprofits, schools, and performing arts organizations. Programming in the Benson Theatre will focus on education during the day – including workshops for artists, entrepreneurs, and underserved populations including special needs groups and the impoverished – and entertainment at night.
Built in 1923, the Benson Theatre building at 6054 Maple St. is currently closed to public assembly and in need of a full renovation. The nonprofit will raise an additional $1.2 million to fund the renovation and the nonprofit’s first two years of operating expenses. Once open and operating, the Benson Theatre aims to create self-sustainable revenue streams from entertainment ticket, program, and beverage sales, memberships, merchandise sales, and facility rental fees.
Plans to fully restore the Benson Theatre took a big step forward this week.The Benson Theatre nonprofit purchased the building this week, after two years of fundraising. The theater company has leased the building since April 2012, always with the goal of eventually purchasing and restoring the historic building at 61st and Maple streets in Benson. The nonprofit plans for the space to serve as a community hub for education and artistic performances.
Now, Benson Theatre works on raising the $1.2 million necessary to restore and operate the building that, at one time, was technically considered demolished.
By: Jacob Zlomke, a HearNebraska.org contributor.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Benson Theatre nonprofit has purchased the historic former vaudeville theater at 6054 Maple St., after receiving more than $309,000 in donations.
The new goal is to raise $1.2 million to renovate the theater and fund its first two years of operating expenses.
The nonprofit had been leasing the building since April 2012 while raising money to buy it. A press release said Jim Mammel contributed a significant financial gift to make the purchase possible.
Plans are to use the theater as an alternative stage in north Omaha for existing nonprofits, schools and performing arts groups. Programming is expected to focus on education and workshops during the day — including for underserved populations, special needs groups and the impoverished — and entertainment at night.
Built in 1923 as a vaudeville house, movie theater and community space, the Benalto Theater became part of a chain of neighborhood movie theaters from 1927-53 and was renamed the Benson Theatre. It has been vacant for about seven years.
Lenli Corbett, vice president of development at Jesuit Academy, is chairman of the Benson Theatre board of directors.
Donations can be mailed to the nonprofit at Post Office Box 4972, Omaha, NE 68104.
After receiving more than $309,000 in donations, the Benson Theatre nonprofit purchased the neighborhood’s historic Vaudeville Theater with plans to restore its classic stage.
The nonprofit leased the theater building from April 2012 to Aug. 2014 while raising funds to buy and restore the landmark to serve as a shared community space for business education and artistic performance.
Centrally located in the flourishing Benson business district, the Benson Theatre building has sat empty for years.
“I believe in the vision for the Benson Theatre,” said Jim Mammel, who contributed a significant financial gift to the Benson Theatre nonprofit. “From children to the elderly, the theatre’s reach will be all-inclusive.”
The Benson Theatre will offer independent programming and will serve as an alternative stage in north Omaha for the metro’s existing nonprofits, schools, and performing arts organizations.
Programming in the Benson Theatre will focus on education during the day – including workshops for artists, entrepreneurs, and underserved populations including special needs groups and the impoverished — and entertainment at night.
“This physical space will be utilized by many in the metro area and will foster economic growth within our community,” said Benson Theatre Director Amy Ryan. “We’re thrilled to reach this milestone and purchase the building.”
Built in 1923, the Benson Theatre building at 6054 Maple St. is currently closed to public assembly and in need of a full renovation. The nonprofit will raise an additional $1.2 million to fund the renovation and the nonprofit’s first two years of operating expenses.
A new group of community leaders joined the Benson Theatre Board of Directors in early 2014 to guide the nonprofit through the remainder of its capital campaign.
On a beautiful summer evening in 1939, a young man proposes to his best girl after taking her to a screening of “The Wizard of Oz” in Benson. She says yes. During the decades that follow, he keeps a page from the local newspaper containing an ad for the Benson opening of that now revered American classic, a memento from that magical night. When he learns that his theatre – their theatre – is destined to become a theatre once more, he brings the yellowed yet carefully preserved page to Benson entrepreneur Amy Ryan for safekeeping.
“There are a lot of stories out there like that one,” said Ryan, owner of The Pizza Shoppe and Pub at 6056 Maple St. and the driving force behind the restoration of the theatre that quietly rests next door to her business like a veteran thespian between acts. “It was once an important part of the community, and it can be again.”
The Benson Theatre
September 1, 1926
Vaudeville theater in the Benson district. The theater is located at 6054 Maple Street.
Ryan and an interested group of preservation advocates have launched The Benson Theatre Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit to “foster the success of artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and underserved populations within the historic community of Benson.” The goal is to acquire and restore the theatre at 6054 Maple St. to serve as a shared community space for business education and artistic performance.
The Benalto Theater, as the Benson property was originally known, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered “demolished.” It was built in 1923 when vaudeville acts toured the country to perform. Operating as the Benalto until 1926, the theatre could seat 400 for performances, film screenings and community events. From 1927 to 1953, it operated as part of a theatre chain owned by the Epstein Bros.
After 1953, the building housed a series of retail businesses in between periods of vacancy and was purchased several years ago by The Lund Company. Ryan’s group has raised $125,000 to date – half of the current purchase price – and has until April of 2015 to raise the remaining half. Once the building has been purchased, fund-raising for the restoration, estimated at $850,000, will begin, she said. The group also will begin raising funds for the theatre’s first two years of operating expenses. “Once we’re open, we will be fully self-sustainable,” she said.
Although the bones of the theatre remain – the original stage, the orchestra pit and a delicately gilded archway on one side of the stage – the structure has been slowly poached over the years so that little else remains. Ryan did manage to unearth six original art deco wall sconces that will be used during the restoration process. “If anyone has anything that was part of the theatre and would be willing to donate it back, we would love to see what’s out there,” she said.
The nonprofit is working with Alley Poyner Macchietto and Lund-Ross Constructors to complete the restoration. The laundry list of chores includes installing new electrical and HVAC systems, preserving the original stage, digging through layers of concrete to expose the original sloped floor, constructing a new projection booth and staff offices, and reconstructing the original theatre lobby. Ryan, who installed solar panels on the roof of her shop next door to the theatre, is also pushing for the use of energy efficient construction techniques and sustainable materials and equipment.
Once completed, the Maple Street entrance will be emblazoned with an iconic vertical Benson sign, beckoning patrons from throughout North Omaha and across the city. Inside, the 225-seat theatre will become home to theatre and film presentations (it’s the future home of the Omaha Film Festival), performing arts organizations, private events and business workshops for artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and underserved populations. “I’ve already had people tell me they want to get married in the theatre,” Ryan said.
The project seems destined to happen, taking the growing entertainment district back to its roots and the vision of its founder, Erastus Benson. An investor, land speculator and philanthropist, Benson invested in Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope. This invention created the illusion of movement by reeling a flexible, perforated strip of sequential photographs past a light source with a high speed shutter.
The rest, as they say in the movies, is history.
To donate to the Benson Theatre Project or schedule a tour of the facility,
contact Ryan at email@example.com.
To learn more about the theatre’s planned programming visit:
It’s frigid and windy as Amy Ryan works the lock of the Benson Theatre’s glass doors. The theater, which has been closed for decades, sits in the heart of Benson’s Maple Street corridor, and when it’s cold, the old lock sticks. Ryan thrusts the doors open finally, and we step inside. The space is vast and empty—our voices bounce along open-faced brick walls and bare steel trusses—and we can still see our breath. “I’m going to take you down below,” Ryan says, as she leads me past the main stage and down a dark staircase. We step gingerly on the old wooden slats, and the air turns humid and musty.
“It’s kind of built like the hull of a ship,” Ryan says, pointing to a small stage buried 16 feet below the main floor. Splashes of teal, burgundy, and gold paint are still visible on the old proscenium arch: remnants of the building’s original days as a vaudeville playhouse.
“Vaudeville, in French, means ‘voice of the city,’” Ryan says. Vaudeville often served as a platform for civic conversation—and that’s one reason Ryan says she feels so drawn to the building. When it went up for sale a couple years ago, she jumped at the chance to buy it—not only to restore it to its grand beginnings but to build a community anchor.
“One thing I’ve learned from 19 years of hustling pizza,” says Ryan, who owns the Pizza Shoppe next door, “is that when you have a physical space, you can help anyone.” Ryan currently supports a growing number of artists in Benson’s now-bustling entertainment district through her adjoining P.S. Collective—a venue for poets and musicians. “You have all these artists who are incredible—the genius of the people in this town in music, in writing, in film and theater,” she says. “But they work three jobs. They’re waiting tables, and they’re struggling.”
Ryan says she wants to provide performance and artistic space in the Benson Theatre—by hosting such a sky’s-the-limit slate of events as opera, chamber and symphonic music, theater productions, independent films, spoken word, and performance art.
But like its vaudeville roots, the mission of the new Benson Theatre will be more than a vehicle for the arts. Ryan, who was a social worker before she inherited the Pizza Shoppe, plans to host educational workshops for artists, entrepreneurs and Benson’s underserved—seniors, people with special needs and the impoverished. The connection: self-sustainability. “We live within social systems that don’t work for people,” Ryan says. “We can change those by just practicing something differently. To me, it’s teaching people how to generate their own revenue because really—all of us just want to be self-sustaining in life.”
The workshops will focus on financial lessons—from basic job interviewing to writing business proposals. “As writers, as artists, as social workers and caregivers of others, we can learn how to be successful in those things that we do,” Ryan says.
The Stephen King classic “The Shining” comes to life in downtown Omaha in an attempt to bring the Benson Theatre back to life. King gave his approval to the project, opening the door to the very first stage adaptation of the story. Jason Levering co-wrote the script and describes King’s blessing as basically “a 10,000 dollar gift.”
“The story kind of lent itself to being a play because it is all set in one location,” Levering tells us. His own son, Chris, who plays young Danny Torrance, says some of the scenes in the show scare him.
Christina Rohling fills the role of Danny’s mother, Wendy. The roll is a bit out of character for Rohling who admits, “I haven’t seen the film. I haven’t read the book. I don’t do horror. It terrifies me.”
Marc Erickson takes on the lead as Jack Torrance, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to bring the character to life. “I started to really see a lot of similarities between the character of jack torrance and myself,” Jack tells WOWT 6 News.
The show opens Friday, March 21st at 7 p.m at Sokol Auditorium at 2234 South 13th Street. It continues Saturday with two shows, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at bensontheatre.org or theshiningomaha.com.
Profits will be used to help the group reach their goal of buying and renovating the Benson Theatre.
Omaha’s Benson Theatre will soon present a stage adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING. The tragic story of the Torrance family and their battle against the inhuman forces of The Overlook Hotel will come to life on stage in this world premiere event, which opens in March 2014. The play will be directed by Jason Levering, from a script written by Levering and fellow writer Aaron Sailors and approved by Mr. King.
“The Shining” was first released in 1977. It was Stephen King’s third novel and his first hardcover bestseller, and it was the book that cemented King as one of the leading authors in the horror industry. Mr. King originally conceived “The Shining” as a play – a tragedy in five acts – but it instead evolved into a novel with five parts. The story follows the gradual dismantling and eventual fall of the Torrance family at the hands of a sinister supernatural force, and it is rife with the intense drama and startling violence often found in Greek tragedies.
Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic and former teacher, a good man and father who is haunted by demons from his past. After losing his job at a prep school, Jack accepts a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a grand tourist escape nestled into the mountains of Colorado and isolated from the outside world. Jack sees the job as an opportunity to return to his roots as a writer and to repair the things that are broken in his family. Jack and his wife Wendy move into the Overlook for the offseason with their young son Danny, a child with psychic abilities that enable him to see and feel things that others can’t. Almost immediately, Danny becomes a witness to some of the more terrifying events from the hotel’s past, and he continues to sense a nightmarish presence lurking ahead, something dark and terrible and violent. “Redrum. Coming.” After a winter storm cuts the family off from the rest of the world, the evil in the hotel is unleashed, manipulating Jack’s mind and needling at his alcoholism, propelling the family into very real danger.
Helping to advise the production are Tom Elkins, director of the film “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia”, and Kevin Lawler, Producing Artistic Director of the Great Plains Theatre Conference and co-founder of the Blue Barn Theatre. Lighting design is being developed by Tommy Wilson, Charlie Wagner, and the rest of the team at JSAV. Our set designer is Kit Gough, who has worked in the Omaha theatre community for several years, most recently as the set designer for “Seussical The Musical” at The Rose Theatre. Providing the artwork for our marketing is local artist Jeremy Caniglia, whose beautiful and terrifying work can be seen gracing the covers of books by authors such as William Peter Blatty (40th anniversary edition of “The Exorcist”), Douglas Clegg, Peter Straub, Max L Brooks, Anne Rice, and yes, Stephen King.
The Benson Theatre is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that fosters the success of local artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and underserved populations within the historic community of Benson. Our goal is to acquire and restore the historic Benson Theatre at 6054 Maple Street in Omaha to serve as a shared community space for business education and artistic performance. Benson is a flourishing arts and entertainment district, and the timing to restore our historic theater and bring more diverse entertainment and vital business education to our community has never been better. The Theatre’s prime location in downtown Benson has the potential to bring thousands of new visitors to the Benson business district for more than 500 events annually.
With the support of the Omaha community, the Benson Theatre Project raised more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations during Phase I of fundraising. The project aims to acquire and restore the historic Benson Theatre at 6054 Maple Street to serve as a cultural center with educational programming, workshops and seminars during the day and entertainment in the evening.
Led by Pizza Shoppe owner Amy Ryan, the Benson Theatre Project leased the theater building in Spring 2012. The Benson Theatre was granted 501(c)3 nonprofit status from the IRS in September.
Phase II of fundraising is now underway, and the organization is looking for an initial $50,000 to finance the purchase of the building by spring 2013. Former Nebraska State Senator Shelley Kiel is serving as president of the Benson Board of Directors.
At the Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson, the room is normally filled with music and the arts, but back in the 1920s, it was the place next door people went to for that sort of thing.
“This is a bit of the original architecture,” explained Amy Ryan as she showed Channel 6 around the building. Now the theater is nearly 90 years old. “This is the original stage and it’s a vaudeville stage, so it’s very narrow,” said Ryan as she shined the flashlight in front of her.
The building was re-purposed after the 1950s. There are still a few reminders of the past hidden in the darkness of the empty building. In fact, most people walk right by, not even realizing it was once a theater, but not Ryan.
“I knew what kind of treasure was hidden inside. I’ve been here a long time. Back in ’95 when I got here this street would have been empty by now, so I had a lot of time to study it.”
Ryan owns the Pizza Shoppe and is leading the charge to restore the old theater. It will cost more than $1 million, but fostering the arts is something that is important to the neighborhood.
City leadership agrees. “Ideas like this have a lot of merit and should be brought along and made to reality,” said Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle. He’s seen other neighborhoods already taking the approach that Benson has to revitalize their own areas.
“There just haven’t been enough venues in Omaha and it’s nice to see them open up something like that,” said Donna Molacek, who’s worked in Benson for years.
Donations are in the spotlight for now, until the money can be raised to restore and open the theater. Ryan says it would not only revitalize some of the history in Benson, but it would truly be an asset to the community in a number of ways.
“The money that is made in this theater when it’s running and operating will actually be donated to the Benson Improvement District. So that that money becomes a slush pool for all those in need in the Benson community.”