Varsity group picks up steam to save theater

By Gus Bode

Community making connections to save downtown theater

Factoid:SAVE will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Interfaith Center. The public is invited to attend.

They’ve got their feet under them, and they’re ready to run.


At least that was the prevailing feeling at the July 2 meeting of SAVE (Save Arts and the Varsity for Everyone) at the Interfaith Center, where 18 members had a seriously progressive meeting for two hours and made plans to canvass the community for support in saving the Varsity Theater, located at 418 S. Illinois Ave., which closed its doors in May.

And individual members are showing no signs of losing steam as the group moves into active mode.

“I’m in this for the long haul,” said SIU professor Jay Needham, echoing the sentiments from all around the table. “I’m looking forward to it.”

And what the entire group has to look forward to in the coming weeks is a full slate. Their campaign begins tonight, when members plan to go before the Carbondale City Council at its 7 p.m. meeting to petition for the council’s support in the cause, and at the group’s meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Interfaith Center, members plan to meet with representatives of a handful of local groups to find out what involvement each of them would like to have in the reclamation of the Varsity.

Among the groups SAVE intended to invite to its Wednesday meeting are Carbondale Community Arts, the Stage Co., the African American Museum of Southern Illinois, the Big Muddy Film Festival, the Greylight Theater, Carbondale Main Street, the SIU Theater Department and the SIU Public Policy Institute.

Also still in progress is a petition drive through which the committee hopes to gain 10,000 signatures from community members by Aug. 5. Several thousand have already accumulated, and although members aren’t sure how they will use the signatures in the end, they are positive that such a broad network of support will be useful as clearly defined plans to reclaim the theater become more apparent.

“10,000 is a lot of signatures,” said Carbondale City Councilman Chris Wissman, who has attended the last two of the group’s meetings, “but if we can get it, more power to us. 5,000 would be nice.”


In addition, community member Jim Syler, who chaired last week’s meeting in the absence of Interfaith Center Director Hugh Muldoon, brought a figure from the county assessors office of $144,322 – what members believe to be the county’s appraisal for the Varsity. While several elements, such as the value of theater seats and other furnishings that may or may not be included in a possible buyout of the building, are not included in that figure, Syler asserted that the number gives the group “a line to think on.”

And as the group moves into an active phase of examining possibilities for the deserted theater, lines such as that one could end up making all the difference.

“We just want to make sure the building doesn’t die a quiet death,” Syler said.

Reporter Geoffrey Ritter can be reached at [email protected]