URBANA – The Gloria Theater will take another step in its reinvention on Saturday with a new live entertainment series to complement the blockbuster films it shows.
Country music duo The Wildcards, considered one of the hottest up-and-coming bands in Nashville, will initiate the Gloria’s new Stars on Stage series, with six shows in a variety of entertainment genres through the end of the year. The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available starting at $27.
Stars on Stage will also be a live audience’s chance to experience all the updates and technical additions the Gloria has added to enhance live performances.
Having a live entertainment series has been in the works since the nonprofit GrandWorks Foundation took over the classic theater in 2014 according to Tim Weller, the organization’s lead booker who put the series together. The Gloria originally opened in 1904 as a venue for live performances before converting to a cinema.
While the Weller estimates roughly eight of the 10 Hollywood movies it shows do well here financially, a movie-only cinema model in a market like Urbana isn’t viable long-term, especially when you add in competing options like streaming and limits giant studios like Disney impose with its releases.
“We did a lot of research to find our business model,” he said. “We knew we had to find a way to do more than movies, to put more culture back in and the hybrid business model we came up with is to do live shows and cinema.”
As movies are booked far in advance, Weller came up with a plan to offer live events on Saturdays when movies that may not have quite as much appeal are on the docket.
A year ago, Weller and wife Staci, CEO and board chair of GrandWorks, went to an Ohio Arts Council event where they met artists, agents and bookers and set the series in motion.
“Our goal was variety. We have country, comedy, a cappella, throwback rock, southern gospel and a group that’s different than what many could be used to,” he said.
Given the popularity of country music in the area, they chose The Wildcards to open the series. Ashley Gearing and Andrea Young have been featured on CMT and other programs and it may be a chance to see these rising stars before they get to a higher level.
“Many in Nashville say they are the hottest new band and the girls will give you everything – vocals, showmanship and you’ll love their covers,” said Weller. “You’ll leave going these are talented, engaging and fun performers.”
Next in the series will be comedian Tommy Ryman on June 10. He was a semifinalist on “Last Comic Standing” and will bring a show suitable for everybody.
“Tommy’s show is one you can bring a 5-year-old child to and not be embarrassed. It will be a wonderful evening of clean, not raunchy comedy,” Weller said.
B2Wins on July 22 will bring a pair who escaped from the slums of Brazil with big dreams and music talent who rose to tour internationally and will bring a high-energy sound using a combination of rock concert, dance party, jam session, covering a lot of hits from a number of genres.
“This will be unique, something for everyone with songs you can sing along to,” said Weller.
Six Appeal, performing Sept. 16, is an a cappella group that won an international competition in Moscow with its blended harmonies. The tribute group Brass Transit covers the countless hits of one of the biggest bands of all time, Chicago, on Oct. 7.
Rounding out Stars on Stage’s first season are the GMA Dove Award winners and Grammy Award nominees Ernie Hasse & Signature Sound, Dec. 8-9, with its “Jazzy Little Christmas” tour.
In addition to the concerts, GrandWorks will also bring the performers to meet various kids at its youth center in Urbana to encourage their creativity.
Along with the series, Weller is just as excited for visitors to experience the transformed Gloria. GrandWorks has just completed the second of its three phases in the restoration that includes a renovated front lobby, remodeled restrooms, ticket booth and technical upgrades.
A new lighting system and additional sound were also added as well as a renovated backstage area for the artists under the stage that includes a green room, dressing rooms and other areas.
Weller has done much of this work himself. The organization is mostly supported by volunteers.
Clifford’s Railcar Café, a restaurant and bar, will open as soon as GrandWorks works out the right partner to work it to offer food and drinks aside from shows.
Stage three will include a new two-story corridor with new green room and dressing rooms for performers, a balcony/mezzanine to expand seating by about 100, permanent sound system and a few other touches. Current Gloria seating is about 380.
The hope is for this to be a destination not just for Urbana and Champaign County residents, but anyone who would like a first-class entertainment experience in a grand old setting with modern touches that are part of the organization’s reach, restore and revive mission, and will continue to accept financial donations to realize it.
“A lot of people travel here from Springfield and Bellefontaine because they like our great, big screen and we’ve been told it’s a better moviegoing experience,” said Weller. “We want to be a well-known event space but we need to pack our house every weekend for movies and live experiences.”
For information on the Gloria and its events, go to gloriatheatre.org/.
HOW TO GO
What: The Wildcards
Where: The Gloria Theatre, 216 S. Main St., Urbana
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22
More info: gloriatheatre.org/
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