No fine tuning necessary: local theater unchanged by economy

The venue has held a variety of shows.

The Varsity was built in 1915 and was one of the last vaudeville houses in Minneapolis.

Jules Ameel

The Varsity was built in 1915 and was one of the last vaudeville houses in Minneapolis.

One of Todd OâÄôDowdâÄôs favorite things about the Varsity Theater is that he never knows who will be walking through the doors next. The communications director and manager, as well as one of the special events coordinators at the Varsity in Dinkytown, said the business has been able to cope with the declining economy, and even started renovations this past March. âÄúWeâÄôve been lucky in that weâÄôve dealt with the recession and also the bridge collapse, both of which have shaken us but not crippled us,âÄù he said. Because the Varsity is event driven, whether the event is a wedding or a show put on by a well-known artist, OâÄôDowd said business has remained the same, despite the recession. âÄúThankfully, knock on wood, weâÄôve been weathering the storm pretty well,âÄù OâÄôDowd said.

How it all began

The Varsity was built in 1915 and was one of the last vaudeville houses in Minneapolis. The rise of movies and decline of vaudevilles caused the theater to convert into a movie house. In 1938, an extensive Art Deco redesign was conducted by local architecture and design firm Liebenberg & Kaplan , which built theaters all over the region, including Ritz Theater Oak Street Cinema . After remodeling, the theater reopened in 1939 and was open until 1988, strictly as a movie theater. In the early âÄò90s, the Varsity was an underground rock club featuring bands such as Green Day and 2 Live Crew. The Varsity held wrestling matches as well as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender parties. In the late âÄò90s, the Varsity served as a teen nightclub and in the early 2000s it was a photography design studio. Since 2005, the Varsity has served as a place for weddings, live theater, fashion shows, film shoots, video premieres and corporate events, though it is most commonly recognized for live concerts. The Varsity was awarded City PageâÄôs Best Concert Venue in both 2007 and 2009.

Rise in popularity

Owner and general manager of the Varsity and Loring Pasta Bar Jason McLean said business at the Varsity has been doing âÄúpretty wellâÄù and it is âÄúhard to see a changeâÄù in the business since the recession. McLean said no major changes have been made because of the recession, besides âÄúbeing careful not to spend carelessly.âÄù McLean said he has seen a price increase in tickets, though the promoters set the prices. Despite increases in ticket prices, McLean said he has not seen an increase or decrease in the number of people who attend performances.

Increase in weddings

OâÄôDowd said a good friend once told him, âÄúPeople will still get married in the hardest of times; theyâÄôll always buy flowers, lipstick and shoes.âÄù The number of weddings held at the Varsity has increased, OâÄôDowd said. He said they try to keep prices fair, noting that prices have remained consistent over the years. âÄúWe know that weddings are a major expenditure,âÄù OâÄôDowd said. âÄúWe try to give them as much bang for their buck as possible.âÄù âÄúFolks are still getting married. Our calendar is nicely full as of now,âÄù McLean said.

Renovations underway

Renovations at the Varsity began in March, in what OâÄôDowd said âÄúwill give us a better aesthetic and also a little more room to work with.âÄù Renovations are currently in phase one, he said, in which they are expanding and opening up the lobby, as well as redesigning the entire bar. The second phase, he said, will entail working on the back half of the theater. The Varsity has remained open despite the renovations. âÄúWeâÄôve been rapidly working around the clock so that not only can we complete this amazing renovation but still deliver quality entertainment and quality events,âÄù he said. OâÄôDowd said he did not know when the renovations will be complete.

Band Perspectives

Shawn Burtis , a computer science and art senior and drummer for the local band Cedar Avenue , opened for the indie rock band Augustana at the Varsity on Jan. 30. The band has played at the Varsity five times. Burtis said what sets the Varsity apart from any other music venue in the area is the atmosphere the Varsity offers. âÄúIt feels less like a dive bar or trendy urban venue and more like a theater, as the name implies,âÄù he said. âÄúWith velvet couches, drapery and elegant carpets, I have yet to witness a more beautiful performance venue.âÄù OâÄôDowd said the Varsity is called âÄúuniqueâÄù by not only people from the Twin Cities area, but also by people from around the world who have played at their venue. âÄúWhat happens at the Varsity âÄî be it a rock show or a wedding, play, whatever âÄî every night is something different,âÄù he said. âÄúWe are thrilled that not only we bring these events to Minneapolis but bring them to a part of town that is so vibrant and so exciting; we are thrilled to be a part of Dinkytown.âÄù OâÄôDowd said the wide range of clientele the Varsity has, whether it be a couple from the suburbs, people attending a corporate party, or University of Minnesota students attending a Fray concert, there is a certain unpredictability of who will come to the Varsity. âÄúThat to me is so cool,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs great that you never know whoâÄôs going to show up.âÄù