SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — The Strand Theatre of Louisiana is the state’s official theater, opened in 1925 at the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Crockett Street in the heart of downtown Shreveport. It’s the flagship theater of the Saenger Brothers, who went on to construct more than 300 theaters across the South.
Keeping The Strand Theatre up to its original grandeur and in operation has been a constant struggle over the decades with a major factor being lack of money for repairs and maintenance. The current board members and staff stayed diligent to find ways to keep the doors open.
“It was going to be a challenge, but I will say we’ve had the most cooperation from our board members and the staff,” Glorioso said, who’s served as president for three years. She will remain on the board as vice president of programming as of Jan. 1.
Jenifer Hill, the executive director of the nonprofit arts organization, has played an integral part in the theater’s fiscal revival since she stepped into the role five years ago.
At that time, The Strand Theatre was in a state of deep financial hardship – a maxed-out $100,000 line of credit, two liens, and a $75,000 debt owed to the stagehands’ union (IATSE Labor Union). Overall, the theater was more than $275,000 in the hole and the board discussed closing the doors, Hill said.
“I had just taken over and I asked them to please, give me a chance,” Hill said. “Give me until the first of the year to see what I can do and see what we could do.”
The board was supportive and together they worked to find a solution. It was a slow, long, and daunting task. However, at the end of 2019, they received what they needed to carry The Strand Theatre in the new decade stable and able to serve the community for many more years to come — major donations from generous community members.
“The Strand is totally out of debt and all of our bills are paid and that is not something I thought I would see, ever,” Hill said.
The Strand Theatre relies heavily on grants, government funding, sponsorships, and patron donations which is then invested in areas such as general operations, programming, and building preservation.
Also, the administrators are obligated to stay within certain guidelines as the theater operates as a nonprofit organization and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“(For) a lot of nonprofits, the last quarter of the year is horrific and frightening,” Hill said. “We never know if we’re going to have enough money to make it through the end of the year. We always seem to scrape by.”
Unexpected charitable givings — large and small — are credited to bring The Strand into a secure fiscal position.
“This place is blessed because somehow we always seem to make it through,” Hill said. “This year, we paid off that line of credit and going to make it through the end of the year without touching it. All of our bills are paid. I’m blown away.”
In 2018, the board of directors launched an aggressive fundraising campaign. They set up a matching fund — nicknamed the “Magic Fund” — in which every dollar donated by the public would be matched by individual and honorary board members.
In the first year, the goal was to raise $25,000 which would be matched up to $50,000.
“We blew past that and had $62,000. That was a big deal for us,” Hill said.
The 2018 “Magic Fund” was used for essential improvements, such as replacing one of the three sump pumps to prevent basement flooding, which could ruin the building’s electrical system if they go out.
Additional improvements included:
– Replacing the floor in the founder’s room and elevator.
– Replacing window-tinting to prevent interior sun damage.
– Installing LED-lighting throughout the building, except for on-stage, with the assistance of SWEPCO.
– Installing additional point-of-sale systems at the bars to improve the line flow and service.
– Installing digital displays in the greenroom, mezzanine, over the bar in the lobby, and the Chandelier room, which will rotate with sponsor slides, upcoming events, and notices to audiences.
– Repairing the HVAC system, which is an ongoing process.
– Upgrading the building’s security system.
– Adding ticket scanners.
– Repairing rollup stage doors.
In 2019, the “Magic Fund” campaign returned with the new, higher goal set at $50,000 for donations, which would be matched to a total of $100,000. The administrators reached the goal, thanks to an unnamed “old and dear friend of The Strand” who donated a large monetary gift, Hill said. The $100,000 will be used for building renovations, which must be compliant with historic regulations. Additional large monetary donations allowed for clearing the two liens off and paying off the line of credit.
“While it’s not enough to finish all of the needed renovations, it’s a good start to get the more urgent needs addressed,” Hill said.
Upcoming improvements will include:
– Replacing the dry-rotted stage curtains.
– Replacing the carpet at the top of the main staircase that’s become crispy and dry-rotted by the sun over time. Sheer curtains were added to the windows to limit incoming sun, however, the damage had already been done.
– Swapping out the 1970s miniblinds for modern window treatments to protect the interior from the sun.
– Pulling up the water-damaged carpet outside the theater’s restrooms in the basement. The carpet will be replaced with either waterproof tile flooring or a scored, clear coating over the concrete underneath.
– Installing weather-stripping to seal the large gaps in the large, wooden outside doors, which will decrease the chill in the lobby in the winter.
– Reinforcing the large iron door on Louisiana Avenue side, which also is original to the building.
– Upgrading the antiquated listening devices for the hearing impaired.
Since The Strand Theatre opened in 1925, limited work has been done due to lack of money and time, Glorioso said.
In the mid-1970s, The Strand Theatre closed until it was donated by the ABC-Interstate Theatres to the newly-formed Strand Theatre of Shreveport Corporation. It reopened in 1984 after a massive restoration project.
Dec. 21, 2019 marked the 35th year anniversary since The Strand’s reopening. The work was enough to sustain the building for a short time, but it was a temporary fix and incomplete.
Money ran out and construction was halted for a year before enough money was raised to restart. Money was still short in supply so many things were left unfinished or never done. However, the venue had to reopen or risk losing tax credits.
“They were not finished but it had to come to an end,” Hill said. “For the past 35 years, we’ve still been putting Band-Aids on things. We’ve never been able to finish.”
Ongoing fundraising efforts proved not to be enough to keep up with the growing list of needs, thus the debt grew deeper.
“Meanwhile, the things that were on that list we have had to suck it up and remain. There are things that just have to be done,” Hill said.
And several years ago, a substantial government grant fell that would have allowed for restoration of the roof. The roof had never been fully replaced and had about five layers of patchwork on the roof.
In 2015, a local donor presented a surprising offer. The deal stated that funds to complete the roof’s replacement would be provided — under the stipulation that the administrators “clean up their act,” which included getting the liens off the building.
The board agreed and received a check for $560,000. The complete restoration of the roof was completed that year.
“The fact that we have this new roof — it preserves the magnificence of this plasterwork,” Glorioso said. “There was always leaks, moisture accumulation and things like that that caused the paint to peel and the plaster to deteriorate.”
THE STRAND IN 2020
The Strand Theatre leaders’ resolutions for 2020 is to stay debt-free, on the right fiscal track, and to keep moving forward with matching funds so they can continue to do work on the building.
Also, they are devoted to finding ways to stay at the forefront of the community’s mind.
The key is to “never let them forget” Glorioso said.
“We’re always challenged to come on this stage each show and ask them (the audience) for their support and their help with the understanding that because of you, we’re still here,” Glorioso said. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been so rewarding in many ways.”
The board implemented committees to develop new, engaging, and diverse stage show lineups for upcoming seasons to appeal to broader demographics. For the 2020-21 season, a concert series will be announced aimed to attract a younger audience.
Providing programming to entertain and engage all age groups is an investment to create future supporters and donors who will be dedicated to preserving the historic site for future generations.
“Enjoy live theater, live performance because there’s nothing like it,” Glorioso said. “You can have your digital whatever on YouTube, but to see the human create in front of you every performance is just great. That’s what you get when you come here.”
The Strand Theatre of Louisiana is located at 619 Louisiana Avenue in Shreveport. To learn more about The Strand Theatre’s history and current season lineup and to donate, visit at thestrandtheatre.com.