Editorial: Culpeper Christmas wish: ‘Save the State’

Posted by on Dec 16, 2015

It may take a miracle to save the financially struggling State Theatre in downtown Culpeper. But isn’t that was the holiday season is all about?

The nonprofit foundation that operates the venue, which has featured live music, plays and classic movies, has raised as of Tuesday $144,000 of the $400,000 it needs to stay open in the new year. That’s a hopeful sign after starting the campaign just a month ago. The foundation has just 17 more days to come up with the rest of the money so the State’s landmark Art Deco marquee on South Main Street won’t go dark again.

The theater initially opened in 1938 and was an entertainment fixture in downtown Culpeper for more than 50 years. It was closed for nearly 20 years until a group of residents undertook a $10 million renovation project and reopened it to the community’s delight in 2013.

In its new incarnation, the intimate 550-seat venue with great natural acoustics has hosted a variety of big-name talent, such as country’s Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives; Dave Mason, the English singer–songwriter and guitarist who started with the band Traffic; Virginia’s own Carbon Leaf, known for its alt-country and Celtic-infused indie rock; and Rhonda Vincent, the singer and instrumentalist who The Wall Street Journal once proclaimed the “Queen of Bluegrass.”

The State recently hosted performances by folk singer Elisabeth Von Trapp, granddaughter of the founders of the Von Trapp Family Singers, and comedian Jerry Lewis.

In partnership with the Library of Congress, which has a vast number of films archived at its Mount Pony campus in Culpeper, classic movies are a staple at the State.

Local musicians and actors in community theater also have found a place to share their talents there. Culpeper resident Richard Moylan said in a letter to the editor that as his wife and children rehearsed for “The Christmas Carol” at the theater this Friday and Saturday, they not only found a sense the community there, but also a second family in the cast and crew.

The State appears to have boosted business and nightlife in Culpeper, drawing local residents as well as out-of-town visitors. It has done so without financial support from the Town Council or the county Board of Supervisors. Leaders of the foundation say they aren’t seeking public funds as they search for sustaining financial resources. They acknowledge that it will take more than a one-time shot of private donations to keep the theater going.

“Most community theaters operate on a 50–50 basis,” Steven Barker, the State Theatre Foundation’s events and outreach director, told The Free Lance–Star’s Donnie Johnston. “Profits from ticket sales only provide half the revenue. Private, corporate and government donations make up the other half.”

Tickets would be too high without benefactors covering much of the operational costs for the theater. That may not have been clear when the doors reopened, but it is now.

The $400,000 would pay off this year’s bills, fund operations next year and allow the foundation to hire a professional fundraiser to keep contributions and grants flowing. We wish them well in the effort, so that the theater may be around for many Christmases to come.

For information about the campaign or to make a donation, call 540/829-0293 or visit the State Theatre website at: culpepertheatre.org or savethestate.org.