Appearing live at the Culpeper State Theatre!

By Posted on Jul 17 2013 | By

Restored art deco playhouse launches next generation of entertainment 

From the late 1930s on, the Culpeper State Theatre was the place to see and be seen. Memories abound from yesteryears patrons of Saturday matinees, Sunday concerts and movie classics such a Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and On the Waterfront showing weekly.

“It was also the only place on Main Street that had lots of lights,” says one resident fondly recalling his childhood.

Today, the 560 seat theatre has been restored and expanded at a cost of $9.2 million. The work includes a ground up reconstruction of the building with an impressive new lobby, state of the art stage, $1 million surround sound and lighting system, 100 percent wool reproduction of the original carpet woven by an English mill, a new wing housing meeting rooms and a small 50 seat theatre located on the second level.

The chairs in the main auditorium were donated by the Kennedy Center and refurbished in an art deco theme. A single original wall sconce was used by the firm Bingham & Taylor to replicate and then donate the remaining wall lighting fixtures.

IMG_7807But the crown jewel is the $100,000 restoration of the original marquee with its “air conditioned” neon lettering displayed front and center for the 24,000 cars that drive past the theatre daily.

An air conditioned building was so unique in the theatre’s earlier days local doctors were known to write prescriptions for pregnant women so they could seek refuge in the cool, dark theater during the humid summer months.

On May 4, Bruce Hornsby—a virtuoso widely known for his creative performances in a variety of musical genres—appeared before a sold-out house at the restored theatre’s grand opening on its 75th anniversary.

Hornsby is the caliber of performer rarely seen in Culpeper and the theatre will showcase similar regional and nationally known acts in the years to come.

An agreement with Audio-Visual Conservation at The Library of Congress, located just east of town, will permit the showing of classic 35 mm and digital movies and represent fifteen percent of the theatre’s programming. The library has a collection of over a million films, television and video items.

The original theatre was opened in 1938, one of thirty owned by Virginia Senator Benjamin Pitts. There are only three remaining in operation today. The theatre was closed in 1993 and sat vacant until 2004 when local residents Greg and Liz Yates purchased it.

Envisioning a rebirth of the theatre as a performing arts center, the Yates’ created the State Theatre Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and donated the building to the foundation. Their gift is one that will keep on giving for the next 75 years and beyond.

Executing a vision
The dream of creating a community stage with exceptional talent appearing from near and far is laudatory; making such a dream financially sustainable is hard reality. Enter Ed Bednarczyk, stage right.

 Executive Director Ed Bednarczyk

Executive Director Ed Bednarczyk

Bednarczyk and his wife Nancy were decade-long residents of Culpeper until their move to Washington State in 1999, relocating to his wife’s home town of Seattle. When the couple returned to Culpeper, he assumed the position of Executive Director of the State Theatre Foundation. A 17 member Board of Directors, which includes the Yates’, oversees theatre operations.

Original plans called for restoration to begin shortly after the Foundation was created. Unfortunately, the recession put the dream on ice as it did for millions of businesses nationwide.

In 2011, sufficient funding was secured and the two-year restoration and expansion project commenced. The funding of $9.2 million was achieved in three distinct segments; $3.2 million from new market and historic tax credits; $3 million from individual donations and pledges, and a $3 million unfunded nut to crack. It’s the third leg of the funding stool that is the primary focus of Bednarczyk’s job.

Achieving the tax credit funding was a major step in advancing the project. The credits were purchased by a third party who assumed the tax benefits over a seven year period while providing the Foundation an immediate infusion of cash.

Successful private donations of an additional $3 million instill confidence in Bednarczyk that the final $3 million funding is clearly achievable. Nonetheless, it’s a goal requiring a full time commitment to pursue private and corporate donations.

“I encourage anyone interested in supporting the local performing arts scene to consider a donation,” says Bednarczyk. A central component of the funding effort is the “Light Up the Marquee” campaign. Monetary gifts ranging from $350 to $5,000 earn the donor the right to have their name appear on a designed sculpture of the Marquee that will be displayed in the theatre lobby.

A broader based fundraising effort is embedded in the Membership Benefits program that offers a host of benefits to theatergoers who contribute from $50 up to $2,500.

One can fully appreciate the budget required to run a first tier arts center when considering Bednarczyk’s management responsibilities. In addition to his primary fundraising efforts, he manages a staff of six professionals: operations & programming, marketing, box office, technical director, financial director, and house manager. Three part-time box office assistants and several volunteers round out his staffing duties.

But any extended conversation with Bednarczyk tends to drift back to fundraising, especially corporate sponsorships.

“There’s not a better opportunity in the region for a corporation to step forward and place their name on some part of this building; from the highly visible front of the theatre right above the marquee to the main auditorium, the new annex, the fifty- seat Black Box Theater, the concession area and more. All of these venues offer a wonderful opportunity for local, regional and even national firms to embrace its customer base while supporting the performing arts,” states Bednarczyk.

The challenge becomes clear given the cost of such sponsorships. Various inside the building marketing opportunities start around $10,000 and range upwards to the premier front of the building commitment of a half a million dollars. Yet the executive director is quick to point out the advantages of such an investment.

“Given the traffic count on Main Street averaging two persons per car, nearly 50,000 people a day could be viewing a company’s name and logo and be linked with an icon of the community. And the marketing of all the shows would include the name of a major sponsor,” underscores Bednarczyk.

Another vision of the foundation is to embrace the youth of the region, including youth concerts. One specific $75,000 sponsorship is called the “Big, Yellow Bus Campaign”.

IMG_7793“I tell school administrators, ‘get’em on the bus and leave the rest to us’. It’s a great program. It takes some of the burden off the schools that have had to cut programs due to budgetary restrictions and helps create great field trips for the children.

“Another source of funding is applying for grants from private foundations who are interested in supporting the arts. “I would love to talk with any of them,” says Bednarczyk.

Local economy impact
A recent study conducted by Americans for the Arts, a National organization that supports the arts and culture through private and public resource development, showed that for every ticket sold at a performing arts theatre an additional $27 was spent in the local community. Shopping, dining and lodging establishments are beneficiaries in addition to the concertgoers.

Bednarczyk underscores that message with a story. “During the Lyle Lovett performance I met a gentleman from Seattle who was on travel. He read that Lovett was appearing at the theatre. Being a fan, he purchased a ticket, booked a hotel room and had dinner at one of our local restaurants. This is the kind of ripple effect the theatre will have on the ten surrounding counties in our region. A venue such as ours does not have to have 2,000 seats or more to have a serious economic impact.”

John Yarnall, owner of It’s about Thyme and two other restaurants and a lodging establishment in town reinforces the economic benefits of the theatre, saying, “I think the theatre is a great asset for the whole community. My restaurants and other local retail businesses will benefit because the theatre is bringing new people to Culpeper and they are staying at local inns and hotels. After their visit they go home and tell others about what’s happening in Culpeper.

“Short term the impact is nice. Long term the impact will be tremendous. And the staff at the theatre are wonderful people to work with.”  

“Knowing and learning our audience is how we will attract people to the theatre,” says Bednarczyk. The goal is to offer a blend of regional and big name acts coupled with free concerts performed by local groups. Cinema will round out the playbill.

While acts like Hornsby and Lovett sell out almost immediately, on average about sixty percent of the seats are currently filled for other concerts.

“Our goal is to reach all audiences. It’s much like when a new store opens and it takes time to build awareness; that’s the stage we are in now. We are essentially telling people ‘we are open for business’. We opened at a difficult time for a theatre. Spring and summer are historically slow times for art centers. Our big season will start in September,” explains Bednarczyk.

He also emphasizes the theatre cannot rely solely on big names. “We would go out of business if we only booked expensive acts. Our formula is to seek sponsors for individual shows who can help offset our costs. This is another opportunity for businesses that don’t want to buy a building name or room yet want recognition. Their name is announced at the show and appears in our playbill and advertising. The cost of a show sponsorship starts at $1,500 and ranges upwards,” says Bednarczyk.

Ticket pricing reflects the cost of performers. Typically a show costs $20-$25. For major acts it jumps to $40-$50, still a bargain given most attendees do not have to travel long distances to see such performers. But tickets for many quality local acts fall in the $10 to $12 range. Free programming completes the schedule.

“Once word gets out about the theatre I think we’ll have an amazing response. We will be selling out shows quite a bit. There are millions of people within forty minutes of this location. We need to let them know we are here and provide them another entertainment option. I’m confident this theatre will celebrate its next 75th anniversary.

IMG_7778“I tell people the theatre is the ‘missing link’ in this community. We have connectivity to Amtrak, local tourism offices and more. I have lived all over the country and most towns would love to have just twenty-five percent of what Culpeper has to offer,” states Bednarczyk.

When asked what his greatest frustration and greatest fun is in running the playhouse, Bednarczyk responded:

“I guess my frustration is finding the patience to have every one of those seats filled at every performance as quickly as possible. I want it now. It makes for a better show when both the audience and the performers see a full house. It will happen but it takes time.

“My greatest fun is inspiring people. At just about every performance I see an elderly lady sitting across the aisle from a ten year child and it may be the first time either of them have seen a talent-filled live show. We have an awesome opportunity to both entertain and inspire those individuals and have them tell others about their experience and then come back. My fun is to win them over and show them what live theater is all about.”

Bednarczyk’s enthusiasm bodes well for the future of the State Theatre. Get your tickets now before the next show is sold out.   



The State Theatre is located at 604 South Main Street, Culpeper, VA. Information on shows is available by calling 540.825.4611 or visiting http://www.culpepertheatre.org/  

Schedule of upcoming events 

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes    Rhythm and blues

Friday, July 12 at 8:00 pm

 ROUTE 66: Finding Nat King Cole           Bringing Nat King Cole to life

Friday, September 6 at 8:00 pm

Second City Comedy

Friday, September 20 at 8:00 pm

Blues Brothers Revue       Jake & Elwood Blues come to life

Thursday, September 26 at 8:00 pm

Special Blues and Brews

Movie Celebration! The Blues Brothers

Saturday, September 28 at 7:00 pm. Movie with favorite ice cold micro-brewed beer

Dolly Parton’s IMAGINATION LIBRARY    Improving children’s literacy

Saturday, October 5 at 2:00 pm

Charles Lindbergh: The lone Eagle     One man show by veteran actor Steve Carroll

Saturday, October 12 at 8:00 pm

An Evening with Julie Fowlis                 Music of the Scottish Isles

Sunday, October 27 at 8:00 pm

 David Payne in an Evening with CS Lewis

Friday, November 1 at 8:00 pm

The Chronicles of Narnia

Saturday, November 2 at 7:00 pm

Prince Caspian The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Sunday, November 3 at 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm

Special Military Appreciation Day Film Presentation: Taking Chance

Sunday, November 10 at 2:00 pm. Free and open to all military personnel and families

Letters Home

A Special Veterans Day Honor Performance

Monday, November 11 at 8:00 pm

The Hot Club of San Francisco      

Cinema Vivant – Special Gypsy Jazz Workshop

Saturday, November 16 2 pm Workshop. 8 pm Concert Performance

A Christmas Carol  45th Anniversary Production

Nebraska Theatre Caravan

Wednesday, December 18 at 7:30 pm


Published in the Summer 2013 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.



Categories : HAGARTY TALES