On Thursday, October 16th , the marquee on the Bohm theater will be lit for the first time in six years. The lighting comes ahead of the Bohm’s “soft opening” that weekend, featuring walking tours and screenings of films from the summer.
First-run screenings of new films will begin Thanksgiving weekend, with additional concerts and programming leading up to the celebration of the Bohm’s 85th anniversary in December.
Lighting the Bohm’s marquee will be one of the final symbolic steps on the path to the Bohm’s re-opening. That path, a six-year saga of grant applications, community action and $3 million in renovations, has become central to the narrative of the series of efforts to revitalize the city of Albion. The marquee itself is symbolic of the way Albion might reinvent itself. Instead of neon lighting, the marquee will be lit with LED lights, a more efficient and sustainable choice.
A recent graduate of Albion College might not believe the sight: a refinished concession stand and lobby greet those looking in from the street. The Bohm’s original doors sit reattached to their hinges. To the left of the lobby is the concession stand, its soda fountain waiting to be used, its granite countertops yet to bear its first bags of popcorn. Beside it to the left, a small bar might one day compete with Cascarelli’s across the street for the attention of thirsty students and residents.
Flat-screen TVs are affixed to the lobby walls, waiting to serve as digital menus. The projection system is all digital, which saves on electricity The house lights are LEDs, which emit all the light and none of the heat of traditional stage lights, cutting air conditioning costs. Dolby 5.1 surround sound fills your ears. The new Bohm is a lean, modern 21st century theater.
When you’re sitting in the theater, though, it might as well still be Christmas Day, 1929. The Bohm might be a modern theater, but it bears the weight of its 85-year history gracefully.
The restoration effort uncovered the original tile on the ticket booth. The lighting fixtures are all Bohm originals, found in the basement, and restored by craftsmen.
One of only three Barton organs in Michigan, a relic from the silent movie era, sits to the side of the stage. The gold trim shining from the columns elicits a roaring twenties feel.
The seats on the theater floor, however, are all new, all 300 of them. The Bohm used to sit 1100, but sat those 1100 much less comfortably than the its future patrons. The original design’s seats were smaller and cramped much closer together. Some seats donated from the closed Washington-Gardner middle school have been arranged in the original style on the Bohm’s balcony, which seats 98.
The Bohm’s new balcony is its crown jewel. The front row of seats in the balcony, called the loge, are clusters of four seats with tables in front of them. Standing room, bar stools and high tables will be available in the back of the mezzanine.
The past and present meet in the Bohm’s balcony, as well. The front row of seats in the balcony are upholstered in purple fabric, while the rest of the theatre’s seats are red. The purple row is an homage to the Purple Gang, a group of Prohibition-era gangsters who met at the Bohm to discuss their bootlegging business. The gang would sit in the upper rows of the theater so that the hum of the projector would hide their conversations.
Lee-Perry Belleau is the Bohm’s new executive director. As a longtime executive director of theatre companies throughout Michigan, Belleau has the experience to not only put on a performance, but to manage the community and nonprofit aspects of the Bohm’s restoration. After stints with the For a Good Time Theatre traveling troupe and the Pit and Balcony Theatre in Saginaw, Belleau shepherded the Port Huron art gallery Studio 1219, as it worked to become independent of its supporting community foundations.
Belleau began to craft his unique skillset while an undergraduate at St. Clair County Community College and the University of Michigan. There, he studied theatre to work as a designer and technical director, but also studied business.
Belleau’s love for the performing arts is evident, as well as his deep respect for the Bohm as a beautiful piece of architecture and a part of the community. He allowed The Pleiad to tour the Bohm before the soft opening and offered extensive information. He also reaffirmed the Bohm’s return as a community effort.
“It’s a whole new venture,” Belleau says of the new Bohm. “I’m looking for suggestions from the community, from the college, from patrons: what would you like to see us do? What would you like to see here?”
Additional reporting by Reese Klebba
Photo Credit: Jennifer McDonell