State Theatre provides community with artistic oasis

This is part of a weekly series that highlights the organizations or people behind one of the Foundation’s funds.

There are numerous venues in town that are showing X-Men: First Class or The Hangover Part II, but if you’re interested in limited release films, local artistic performances and national musical acts, The State Theatre, in downtown State College, is the place for you.

State Theatre Executive Director Harry Zimbler said the theater’s status as a professional, community-based theater that, unlike other theaters, is not directly affiliated with Penn State, makes it a unique fixture in this area.

With about 600 seats, the State Theatre also provides a service that smaller or larger venues can’t provide, Zimbler said.

“We can bring in acts that are too big for small venues and too small for big venues like the  Bryce Jordan Center. Some of the acts that we bring in can’t sell out the Bryce Jordan Center but they can sell out the State Theatre.”

Roseanne Cash will perform at the State Theatre on Sunday, July 3.

Zimbler said three of the upcoming acts he’s most looking forward to are The Robert Cray Band,  Roseanne Cash, (daughter of Johnny cash) and Dweezil Zappa playing (his father) Frank Zappa’s music.

The State Theatre originally opened on October 15th, 1938, as a Warner Bros. movie theater. It closed in 2001, but then reopened in 2006, largely due to the efforts of Sidney Friedman, local real estate developer and philanthropist.

“Sid Friedman was convinced that the town could use a place like the State Theatre. It’s basically the Friedman family’s vision,” Zimbler said.

Friedman and his wife, Helen, created a fund at the Centre County Community Foundation that benefits The State Theatre, and it also has its own endowment fund with the Foundation.

“We’ve used that money to offset the cost of production for local groups,” Zimbler said. “Theater is a very labor intensive business. You’ve got to have lighting guys, technical directors, sound guys. You need a whole staff of people and that costs a lot of money.”

Despite the costs, Zimbler said supporting the arts is importing because art adds tremendously to an area’s quality of life. And though sometimes in Happy Valley it seems like all people care about is sports, according to Zimbler, it’s the arts that capture the human spirit.

“Companies or universities that are trying to attract top-notch people need a place like this to attract doctors, CEOs, etc. People don’t want to move to a place that doesn’t have the arts,” Zimbler said.

The State Theatre will show the film "Jane Eyre" this Sunday through Thursday.

After taking the reins from former Executive Director Mike Negra in  January, Zimbler, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater, and has performed as an actor and singer, made it his mission to re-energize the theater and refocus it on its goal of serving the community.

In order to meet that goal, Zimbler has emphasized bringing local groups in to perform at the theater.

“We want to have a nice mix of national famous acts, but we also have to serve the community’s performance groups. That was the original vision of the place,” Zimbler said. “The theater gives local people a chance to perform in a really nice place.”

The State Theatre also serves the community by often teaming up with local non-profits for film screenings and other events. From the Red Cross, to Tides, to the Women’s Resource Center, the theater has worked with at least 30 different non-profits in the last five years, Zimbler said.

To learn more about the State Theatre, its current and upcoming shows and how to purchase tickets, check out their website.


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