Founded in 1926, the State Theatre was for years a staple of the local film community, bringing movies and–in its early years, vaudeville–to downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The one-screen movie palace stayed a first-run movie theater for decades, even though the tumultuous ’70s, when a nationwide trend towards suburbanization caused many downtown movie palaces to turn to exploitation or risque content in order to stay open. In the ‘80s, competition from newly-built multiplexes and a lack of investment in updated equipment led the State to becoming a discount theater. In the early 90s, it closed its doors… but not for good.
The non-profit group Sioux Falls State Theatre Company has for years worked to bring the theater behind the State’s iconic marquee back to life. And in December, the State opened its doors to customers once again, beginning a new chapter in the life of a historic movie palace.
Steven Dahlmeier on the State Theater’s demographics.
Sioux Falls is located on the southeast corner of South Dakota, right next to the Minnesota and Iowa border. The city itself has around 190,000, the metro area’s about 250,000. We’re a relatively small community in the big picture but we’re a big community in our region that drives a lot of the economy for the eastern part of the state. We get a lot of people that travel in to come and visit, including going to movies. We’ve got a couple larger multiplexes but we’re the only single screen theater in Sioux Falls.
Steven Dahlmeier on programming.
What works in Minneapolis isn’t necessarily going to work in Sioux Falls. Some of these guys have been operating the same theater for 20 years, and they know what they’re doing, so we’re taking a lot of cues from a few of them, intertwining what we think would work here. A mix of some of the cult classics from the ’80s and new releases like Minari and Nomadland, which we’re very excited about. We want the people of Sioux Falls come in and experience and enjoy these movies in a historic setting.
Allison Weiland on establishing an identity through the local community.
We still have to answer the question: what are you? We’re a nonprofit; we’re local, it’s two of us managing, programming, and making people aware of what we are. As far as building an audience, we’re trying to program a real diverse program: cult classics, children’s movies, some new releases. Let people know we’re going to be doing everything, we’re for everybody. This isn’t an elite place for just that donor crowd. We want everyone to feel really comfortable here and to know that this is the community’s theater.
It was really interesting to see so many great films not even have a debut here, or only play a single night, like just one showing. There is a huge need for it, also for the [local] economy with our downtown. Bringing a number of people in every day and through the weekend is a huge boost for our community.
Steven Dahlmeier on the State Theater’s role as a gateway to cinema.
We’ve been very pleased with the turnout we bring in. We brought in Metropolis, Roma, Cinema Paradiso, Sound of Metal, a wide mix of films that people might not have seen on the big screen before, just haven’t seen or been exposed to. We’re excited that they’re coming in, not knowing really what they’re going to see, and walking out with smiles on their faces, excited for when we’re going to bring in something else that’s unique. We’re mixing it in with Dirty Dancing and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We did a late night showing of The Thing when it was 25 below and we sold out. There was applause at the beginning and applause at the end. That gives us fuel to keep going and gets us excited for every weekend.