The show must go on: When local communities come together to preserve the arts

In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Ironwood Theatre turns 90 years young this summer

Older than most people on this planet, the Ironwood Theatre is a treasure—with its stunning interiors and painted ceiling murals making it truly grand.

“So many people walk into this place and are flooded with memories from throughout their life,” says Bruce Greenhill, managing director of the theatre for the past seven years.

“The seniors that come in still get a sparkle in their eye remembering the first kiss they had up in the balcony when they were teenagers.”

The Ironwood Theatre, based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula city of Ironwood, is celebrating its 90th birthday this July, and such a milestone deserves a fitting celebration.

In appropriate fashion, the theatre will be hosting a two-hour variety show on July 28. It’s titled Aurora Nights—for the town’s view of the Northern Lights, and the theatre’s Aurora Street home—and will feature musicians, choirs, dancers and other performers from talent sought out locally and brought in from around the country.

“The show will be reminiscent of those early days in the ’20s, but it will have a contemporary twist,” says Greenhill.

The theatre seats just over 700 people and holds one of only six Barton organs in its original place of construction in the entire United States.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the Ironwood Theatre, though. Greenhill says the icon has won many battles to reach its 90th birthday this year.

“The theatre was in danger of being lost just before it underwent its restoration in the ’80s,” he says. “Many historic theatres like ours around the country fell victim to cinema chains and mall developments that moved activity away from downtown areas.”

Fortunately for the facility, a passionate community coupled with a strong emotional attachment to the theatre meant it wasn’t going anywhere.

“We have an amazing community of folks who, at the time and to this day, felt very strongly about the theatre,” says Greenhill. “They invested an incredible amount of time, energy and finances to save it.”

Enbridge believes in strengthing the communities near our operations and projects, and our recent donation of $3,000 to the Ironwood Theatre will be used for the 90th birthday celebration and the facility’s general operations.

Today, Ironwood is funded in equal parts through grants, donations and sales from tickets and popcorn. It continues to bring in regional and national performing acts and also fosters education in the arts to students.

Youth programs at Ironwood include summer camps and youth vocal competitions where recent American Idol finalists are brought in to mentor students. One of Greenhill’s favorite programs is the drama club, who named themselves the Awkward Stage Drama Club.

“Our goal is to continue finding that balance between bringing in quality entertainment and providing opportunities for others to engage in the arts,” says Greenhill.

With a current roof restoration ongoing, plans to upgrade technology to handle big-name acts, and diversifying programs to enhance youth confidence, they are well on their way.

“This theatre has been a part of the social fabric of this community since 1928,” says Greenhill.

“Aside from the fact that so many people can walk in here and look up at the ceiling and say: ‘Wow, my grandparents had this same experience,’ the most rewarding part about what we do is provide opportunities for people to engage with us in so many ways.”