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WVBR Spotlight: The State Theatre, Local Landmark

The State Theatre of Ithaca, picture by the Ithaca Voice

by Lauryn Hamilton ('21)

Built in 1928, the State Theatre of Ithaca is the last remaining historic performing arts theatre in all of Tompkins County. Throughout the years, the State Theatre has been a cultural and music hub supported by community efforts.

To get a better understanding of the theatre I recently (virtually) sat down to talk to Doug Levine, former WVBR board member, and current executive director of the State Theatre of Ithaca since ‘09. We discussed the history of the State Theatre, the pandemic, and importance of community.

What do you believe the primary role of the State Theatre to be, and how has that role evolved?

For many decades we (the State Theatre) have been the center of art and culture in the heart of downtown Ithaca. Typically, pre COVID we would host around 75-90 events per year including national, international, and local/community performances. Now with COVID, these numbers have shifted, but we still serve a purpose in preserving and promoting Ithaca’s rich cultural life.

With new COVID related restrictions, how has the State Theatre adjusted?

A little over a year ago, March 7, 2020, was the last live show with Graham Nash with around 1000 people in attendance.

In accordance with NYS regulations and for the safety of our guests, we had to cancel or reschedule all the live shows planned since March 7, 2020. To adjust, we have redirected our energy and switched to live stream shows. We have invested in video equipment and mixing boards to make these video streams better. We have been fortunate enough to have continual community support, and raise money through campaigns and virtual events.

Tell me more about the campaigns and donations from the community.

Last winter we had our Save the Seat Campaign where we sold out in less than 8 weeks ALL 16,000 seats - raising $160,000 to support the venue while it was not operational! Additionally, during live virtual events, guests have the option to donate. Furthermore, they can donate through our website or buy merchandise from our online store. Our community has great love for the arts and this historical space and have really rallied to help us all get through this time.

The resilience and support of the local Ithaca community has helped us tremendously.

The State Theatre of Ithaca has a strong connection with the town. Are there any unique ways you have been fostering and preserving this connection?

The number of years the State Theatre has been running has allowed us to build a multigenerational community that we strive to preserve. We try to insert ourselves in the community, and our marquee sign out front is an example of this. The sign is a rallying point, with messages such as “We Are All in This Together” in bold letters at the start of the pandemic.

The marquee sign and State Theatre is like a community living room, a fun safe environment.

The marquee sign displaying “We Are All in This Together”, photo taken from Ithaca State Theatre Facebook

It gives a place to enjoy affordable live music, performance and the arts while being a part of a community as strong as Ithaca’s.

Where do you personally see the direction of local music and theatre?

We will continue to provide affordable music and performance experiences with the help of ongoing support. We plan on elevating our virtual shows as well.

A major upcoming livestream event is May 8th, which will be the 10th Annual Benefit the State.

The band Pink Talking Fish will be playing a Grateful Dead tribute concert in celebration of the 44th anniversary of the notably iconic May 8th 1977 Grateful Dead concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall. This concert led to the live album Cornell 5/8/77 and arguably one of the Grateful Dead's best live performances. We hope many will join us and more details are to come!

A screenshot from my conversation with State Theater Executive Director Doug Levine

You can support the historic State Theatre of Ithaca by buying merchandise at or by donating directly through the website.

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