The Stage and Screen Scene

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Theaters Traverse City MI

Located in the heart of Downtown Traverse City, you’ll find several gems of stage and screen. (The Bijou, in fact, derives its name from the French word meaning “little gem.”)

If you’re a lover of fine entertainment, you won’t want to miss the State Theatre, Bijou by the Bay and City Opera House.

The State Theatre

This recently restored relic features small-town American charm, with all the modern technology moviegoers of today expect. Take a seat in the sumptuous red velvet chairs for a theater experience like no other. From the twinkling fiber optic ceiling to the dazzling picture and sound, you’ll quickly understand why the State has been named the No. 1 Movie Theater in the World by the Motion Picture Association of America.

One hundred years ago, constructed as a complement to the adjacent Grand Opera House, the original Lyric Theater opened with a picture called “The Iron Strain” – only 15 cents for adults and 5 cents for children. In a nod to the past, the theater today offers 25 cent weekly classic and children’s matinees, in addition to a full calendar of affordable (oft-free) annual events.

Over the course of its vibrant history, the theater was destroyed twice by fire, taking on its modern name after the second blaze in 1949. Several remodels and changes of hands led to the most recent renovation in 2007, after which the State was donated by Rotary Charities to the Traverse City Film Festival, which now operates the year-round, volunteer-run, community-based art house movie theater.

Th festival is a premier summer event, bringing more than 100,000 admissions to experience over 250 movies across 10 historic venues. It features free movies on a giant screen in the Open Space overlooking the beautiful bay, show movies on a boat, parties, film school classes, free panels, a children’s festival and more, according to TCFF’S Meg Weichman, who calls it “a six-day cinematic wonderland that celebrates everything we love about the movies.”

“The reopening of the State Theatre in 2007 marked an important moment for own downtown, kicking off a new era of growth. Today, the State and Bijou serve as anchors to our incredibly vibrant downtown,” Weichman says. “We open our doors to the community offering hundreds of free and low-cost events each year and serve as town square — a center of goodwill and community. What makes them special is that they are volunteer-run and beautifully restored historic buildings that put the magic back into going to the movies.”

The State Theatre showcases the best new release and independent films which “capture the human experience in transformative ways.” No doubt you’ll feel transformed when you visit this classic theater palace.

Bijou by the Bay

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This aforementioned ‘little gem’ is a more intimate version of the State Theatre, located just off the TART Trail on Grand Traverse Bay. Expect the same comforts and amenities of its lauded sister screen, drawing crowds to big Hollywood blockbusters that cannot be shown at the State due to deed restrictions.

The Bijou building was originally commissioned by President Roosevelt in the 1930s. It reopened as a state-of-the-art movie theater in 2013. Lovers of all things art will appreciate its grand murals of Lake Michigan, featuring many a hidden ‘easter egg’ homage to classic films. (Can you find them?)

“People should make sure to stop into the State and Bijou to see a great movie at affordable prices (pop and popcorn for as little as $2), and to experience the movies the way they were meant to be seen — on a big screen, with perfect picture and sound, and a crowd of people,” Weichman says. “They can see a genuine movie house in a building that has been showing films in the same location for the past 100 years.”

City Opera House

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The “Grand Old Lady,” as she is known in local lore, has perched on the shores of the Grand Traverse Bay since 1892. The community-supported venue has hosted everything from plays to concerts, operettas, galas and banquets.

The City Opera House is one of only six intact Victorian opera houses in the State of Michigan, added to the National Register of Historic places in 1972.

A quick scan of the event schedule will reveal the versatility of the 700-seat venue. From fly fishing tours to Broadway revues, Metropolitan opera to chocolate festivals – the City Opera House has seen it all.

– Ashley Kahn Salley,
Lead Storyteller,