Benson Theatre on the rise

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Jeff Turner
A&E EDITOR

Local theaters used to be big; especially in Omaha. Not all that long ago, there was the Dundee Theatre which balanced old movies with various new releases. People didn’t patronize it enough, and it shut down. Luckily though, it has been sold and donated to film-streams, and will be reopening in 2018. There’s another such theatre in Benson opening soon and it will be multipurpose.

Initially known as the Benalto Theatre, the Benson Theatre of long ago would seat up to 400 people for a variety of performances including vaudeville, film screenings and community events. Currently, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered “demolished.” The building was recently purchased by the Lund Company as a real estate investment. The interest of those involved with the project, Executive Director Amy Ryan and Artistic Director Jason Levering is to sublease the space and restore its original purpose for the community.

As of May 1, the Benson Theatre board has raised funds to purchase the building at 6054 Maple St. developed plans for its renovation and is within $1.4 million of it’s total fund-raising goal.

Their mission is to engage, enhance and enrich the Benson community with educational and artistic experiences, and their message is starting to resonate with people throughout the city; as is stated on the website.

The Benson Theatre board, spearheaded by Ryan, formed in 2009 and received its nonprofit status in 2012. The total cost of the project, including construction and six months of operating costs, is $2.4 million. Construction will begin when all the funds have been raised.

In addition to securing almost half of its fund-raising goal, the theatre has formed 37 community partnerships with local organizations that plan to use the facility once it opens, including the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media, Hear Nebraska and Benson High School.

The venue will host educational workshops and seminars during the day and entertainment during the evening. Educational offerings will include: Corporate-sponsored basic business, marketing and financial planning workshops for artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and underserved populations, including special needs groups and the impoverished, business, marketing and entrepreneurship classes, as well as life and social skills classes.

The 225-seat assembly theatre will provide the backdrop for film, live theatre, musical performances, vaudeville and comedy. It will also be available for private events.

The interior resembles the currently down Dundee Theatre mixed with some of the upscale class of the dine-in theatre in Midtown or the Alamo Drafthouse. As far as a project that would draw interest towards Benson, this is a sure thing. Patrons could go see a film or a performance, and then go drink and make merry, or they could go to a show at the Waiting Room and it would all often be on the same block.

A theatre within walking distance is a lost gift, and almost impossible to find outside of New York or L.A.. What a Benson Theatre restoration would offer to the neighborhood and to Omaha at large would be tremendous.

The fundraising goal is $2.6 million, with $1.2 left to raise. Students can get involved by either donating volunteering at the website at http://bensontheatre.org/.

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