This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.
Workers cut sandstone blocks from a local quarry to build a building as strong as a castle and as elegant as a cathedral, and 130 years later, the Mabel Tainter Theater is standing, still impressing audiences.
“People walk in here and they can’t sit down,” said Jeff McSweeney, executive director. “They say I am going to look over here and over here before I go to my seat. People can’t believe that this is in Menomonie, a town of 16,000.”
When people do finally decide to sit down, they find original wooden seats which initially came in small, medium, and large.
“In 2007, they came in and added expanders to make all the seats wider, make them all large seats,” McSweeney said. “They made them all consistent, and we lost about 40 seats in the renovation.”
With only 261 seats in the theater, every seat has a good view. The farthest seat from the stage is 80 feet away, according to McSweeney.
From those seats, visitors can watch an interesting variety of programs.
“The programming here is very community-oriented,” McSweeney said. “That means that we reach out to the community to see what they want. Our programming committee is made up of board members and community members to help review the shows and how they fit in.”
The schedule includes some famous talent, such as recent performances by Garrison Keillor and Louis Anderson, as well as regional acts and performers touring the United States. The theater also includes people who are developing their shows to help encourage the next generation of directors, performers, and technicians.
Because of the lumber industry, Menomonie had one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the country at the turn of the century,” McSweeney explained. “There were 40 opera houses or performance places in this town at its peak. The history here is so great.”
McSweeney noted that when the theater was built in 1890, there were no social media platforms, no radio or TV.
“This is what brought people together,” McSweeney said. “Today, when we step away from electronic media and have shared experiences, we realize the value of that. It’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”
If you go...
Name: Mabel Tainter Theater
Address: 205 Main St E, Menomonie, WI 54751
Hours: Tours are offered Saturdays 11-3 year-round and also on Fridays in the summer. Check the website for times of specific events.
Cost: Usually $20-$50. Check the website for exact prices for each event.