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After 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Ellen Theatre is finally ready to show off its fresh coat of paint.

And repaired plaster. And a new air ventilation system. And a reconfigured lobby.

There’s a lot that’s new — and, as always, a lot that’s old — about the Ellen this time around.

“Every square inch of the theater has been repainted” or cleaned, said John Ludin, the executive director of the Ellen.

The Ellen Theatre Re-Opening

The walls of the theatre and the lobby were hand-painted with a stencil during the 18 months that the theatre was shut down. The inside of the theatre is pictured here on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021.

Gold stencils, painted by hand by Mark Mlynar of Dependable Paint instead of rolled or sprayed, adorn the lower half of the lobby walls and the lower portion of the inside of the theater. The tan-colored paint inside the theater was replaced with a soft pink. The seats were all taken apart, cleaned and put back together.

Many of the renovations inside the century-old theater itself were to bring it back to its original condition. Orange paint was replaced with the original teal in some areas, and years of dust and cigarette smoke stains were cleaned out of panels lining the walls of the historic building. Plaster that had broken or was rotting from water damage was taken out and replaced, some of it up to 40 feet in the air.

In a way, Ludin said, the pandemic was lucky timing.

The Ellen Theatre Re-Opening

The entire Ellen Theatre was cleaned, repaired and re-painted during the 18 months that the theatre was shut down. It is preparing to reopen next week.

The Ellen has been undergoing big renovations to bring it back to its 1919 look for years, including a historically-accurate marquee and blade sign.

But many of the renovations done during the pandemic couldn’t have been done during the Ellen’s pre-pandemic schedule, which had more than 55,000 people in the seats per year to see over 200 performances. Scaffolding needed to be put in for much of the painting and plaster repair, which would have rendered the theater unusable for shows while repairs were underway.

Patrons who loved the Ellen continued to support it financially, which included buying prints and even some of the theater’s original 1919 art deco-style seats. The theater wouldn’t have been able to make it through the pandemic and get the face-lift without the generosity of the community and the businesses that took part in the renovations, like Dependable Paint, which “heavily discounted” the cost of painting the theater, Ludin said.

The Ellen Theatre Re-Opening

The dressing rooms at the Ellen Theatre received a fresh coat of paint while the theater was shut down during the pandemic.

There are also some improvements and renovations that the public won’t see. The Ellen’s dressing rooms, which are underneath the stage, got a face lift during the closure.

“They weren’t in bad shape, but they were just kind of worn,” Ludin said. A fresh coat of paint, a new costume room and new heaters — something Ludin said he anticipates casts being excited about — are all part of the behind-the-scenes renovations.

While lots has been done in the past 18 months, the work is never over.

Ludin and his staff have been busy getting ready for the Ellen’s upcoming events, starting with a screening of the film “In The Heights” on Wednesday. Its first live show back is scheduled to be the Kingston Trio on Oct. 14.

Ludin’s ready to see people in the lobby and in the seats of the theater again soon.

“That is the thing that was always the most enjoyable,” he said. “Seeing the people.”

The Ellen Theatre Re-Opening

The entire Ellen Theatre was cleaned, repaired and re-painted during the 18 months that the theatre was shut down. 

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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