History takes center stage at Meyer Theatre
A look at what was and what’s to come for 2022
By Rachel Sankey
Nine years short of 100, The Meyer Theatre has been an entertainment staple in Green Bay since Valentine’s Day, 1930. But the theatre didn’t start out under that name.
As the venue’s century approaches, General Manager Matt Goebel and President Jeff Mirkes can’t help but reminisce on the icon’s history while planning for the future. The theatre, as well as the surrounding downtown area, has undergone numerous changes and updates over the last 91 years. And while the name may have changed just 20 years ago – in 2002 – its purpose and mission has remained unchanged.
It started as one of the historic Fox Theatres vaudeville houses – a theatrical genre made up of a mixture of entertainment, such as comedy, song and dance – as well as a movie palace. Unlike a “typical” movie theater, movie palaces were ornately-decorated and built between the 1910s through the 1940s.
There were a few more shifts between Fox and Meyer. After founder William Fox went bankrupt, the venue became the Bay Theatre. By 1978, it was sold to Standard Theatres. Twenty years later, in what staff said in an effort to keep the building from being torn down, the Robert T. and Betty Rose Meyer Foundation gave a large contribution. In 2002, after decades of changing names and ownership, the building was renamed The Meyer Theatre, and was incorporated as a nonprofit venue.
Now, The Meyer Theatre, well-known by many, offers a variety of events – from musicians and bands, to plays and comedy shows.
Goebel said stepping inside the Meyer brings you back in time – with the theatre’s original Art-Deco and Spanish Colonial influences still in pristine shape after nine decades. Goebel said, combining modern design with rich materials and classy, ornate architecture creates a one-of-a-kind experience for patrons. Goebel said the inside of the theatre features some of the original light fixtures from back when it was first built including the ceiling, which is painted like a Renaissance sky.
Another piece of history inside the theatre, Goebel said, is the fainting room near the women’s restroom on the second floor. The theatre would get very warm during performances, leading women to have to take a break from the show to loosen their corsets to breathe… or faint.
Mirkes said the theatre also houses one of the only Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe organs left in the world. All 572 pipes have been restored to their original working condition. Back in the 1920s through the 1930s, organs were used as the “voice” for silent films, which were very popular during that time. Mirkes, who has been on the board for the last 20 years (and president of it for the last 10), said that one of their goals for this year is to further increase community awareness of the Meyer Theatre’s historical significance.
Meyer and the community
Goebel took over as general manager in 2004, when PMI Entertainment Group, a Green Bay entertainment management service, obtained management of the theatre. For the last 18 years, he said he’s watched The Meyer and its surrounding community change and evolve.
“The biggest changes have been within the downtown community,” Goebel said. “I would say just with a lot of the businesses coming in, a lot more people living downtown. I think the mayors that have worked here the past 18 years have done a really good job of concentrating on the downtown and rebuilding it and getting more people down here. But I would have to say the downtown demographics have really changed since my 18 years of being here.”
Mirkes also said “The Meyer Theatre has been a cultural gem in Downtown Green Bay since 1930. The presence and activation of The Meyer contributes to business recruitment and development opportunities throughout the downtown area,” Mirkes said. “It is always inspiring to see restaurant activity on the night of a big show at The Meyer.”
A look ahead
On average, Goebel said the Meyer Theatre does around 200 shows a year. Let Me Be Frank Productions is currently the largest tenant for the theatre, running shows from February through December. However, the light-hearted plays aren’t the only kinds of events they host.
“We range from country to comedy, to all different kinds of business meetings, all that kind of stuff,” Goebel said. “We use and rent the theatre for dance recitals, local community bands, everything that really makes sense in a theatre this size.”
Both Goebel and Mirkes said that this year they’re looking to appeal to a more diverse demographic. Goebel said he’s focused on the younger community specifically, and wants them to know The Meyer caters to more than just the older demographic.
Mirkes also said that this spring The Meyer is working on the construction of a new state- of-the-art Marquee video display, which will provide greater visibility and readability.
Like many other entertainment venues, Goebel said, The Meyer felt, and continues to feel, the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s pretty decimating, you know, we basically shut down after our last show on March 14th in 2020,” Goebel said. “We were shut down completely till the end of July… I think we were one of the first theatres to really bring back people. But it was crippling for the theatre, the entertainment business in general.”
Goebel said the theatre received both state and federal grants to help them stay afloat, including the Main Street Bounce Back grant, as well as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
Goebel said one of their main goals for this year is to reach full capacity for shows again since COVID-19, hopefully by the fall.
Let’s head Backstage
In 2015, the Meyer opened Backstage, an avant-garde-styled space attached to the theatre which sits at the corner of Washington and Walnut Streets. It’s used for wedding receptions, parties, catering events and more. Backstage has its own small and intimate stage, a bar and customizable food and drink options from Executive Chef Nicole Hoida.
Mirkes said that another goal for this year is to increase the awareness and utilization of Backstage as it makes a convenient venue for all kinds of events.
Mirkes said the theatre board is currently evaluating innovative Season Ticket Holder programming options and other additional benefits.
He said the plan is for board members to work more with PMI management for ongoing strategic planning and crafting the future direction of the Meyer Theatre.
“We know that the entertainment industry has endured so much during the pandemic and we need to be ready to explore new ways to engage with future generations of patrons and supporters,” Mirkes said. “We are all stewards of this cultural gem and we are dedicated to the future vitality of The Meyer for decades to come.”
THE MEYER SPRING SHOW SEASON
The Franky Bunch – Feb. 4 – Feb. 26. $35.
2022 Fly Fishing Film Tour – Feb. 23. $21+.
Murder Mystery Dinner – Till Death Do Us Part – Feb. 25. $40.
STEEM – March 3. $30+.
Vic Ferrari Symphony on the Rocks – March 5. $35.
Postmodern Jukebox – The Grand Reopening Tour – March 6. $39+.
We Banjo 3 – Awakening Tour – March 10. $25.
Ginger Billy – March 13. $37+.
Todd Snider – March 14. $30+.
Gaelic Storm – We Missed You Tour – March 17. $35.
Project Pink – March 18 and March 19. $40. $70 for both shows.
Fortune Feimster – March 24. $35+.
John Crist – Fresh Cuts Tour – March 25. $50+.
Taylor Tomlinson – Deal With It Tour – March 27. $30+.
Woma Algoma – You’ve Struck Gold – April 1. $35.
Green Bay Hardbodies Natural – May 7. $15 GA for judging, $25 GA for finals, $40 GA for both.
Lee Greenwood – 40 Years of Hits Tour – May 13. $45+.
Rachel Sankey is an Arts and Entertainment Reporter for Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]