'Welcome to the Ellen Theatre:' Historic venue prepares to reopen after 18 months of closure

Ellen Theatre Prepares to Reopen.jpg
Posted at 5:37 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 19:37:08-04

BOZEMAN — One of Bozeman’s oldest venues, dating back a century ago, is setting its stage to reopen again, more than a year and a half after the pandemic closed its curtain.

It’s been 18 months since the Ellen Theatre has been graced with any sound of music.

Through the pandemic, they’ve made some changes and now, they are set to reopen.

“To have everybody laughing together or just enjoying some music together is a community,” says John Ludin, Ellen Theatre executive director. “That’s really what we missed.”

Time—and era upon era of changing theater. To Ludin, this 102-year-old theater has seen more than just history; it’s withstood the test of time.

“The building was built properly when they made it back in 1919,” Ludin says. “They did everything right and clearly we’ve had to update things like electrical and the air system, heating, air conditioning, all that.”

Then the pandemic shut the Ellen’s doors and the music stopped flowing.

“A big part of the Ellen Theatre is the summer musical and whatever our holiday production is,” Ludin says. “Those are really the engines that drive this place. We have about 10,000 people attend those shows and all of a sudden those 10,000 people aren’t coming.”

Ludin says that’s when the theater made lemonade out of lemons or, more apt, a scene change while the curtains were closed.

“[One] entire corner had to be rebuilt,” Ludin says, pointing to the northwest corner of the ceiling in the auditorium. “It had peeling paint and busted up plaster so this whole area was completely filled with scaffolding.”

Renovations included fixing that plaster, a fresh coat of paint on the original dressing rooms and other areas, as well as a big goal: a new ventilation system.

“Air scrubbers were installed and there’s a new ventilation system so air will circulate continually and will be as clean as possible,” Ludin says.

Which brings us to Wednesday.

For the first time in a year and a half, audiences will be welcomed again, this time for a screening of “In the Heights.”

And on October 14, the Kingston Trio, the first return of live music to the Ellen stage.

“We’re going from 'In the Heights' to the Kingston Trio,” Ludin says. “You are talking decades of music evolution.”

To Ludin, it’s a big start.

As he puts it, the road forward will prioritize preserving history along the way, as it should be.

“We were able to put it back to the way it looked back when it first opened because there was nothing wrong with that, at all,” Ludin says. “It’s really quite glorious. It’s a tribute to theater.”