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New life for historic theater

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

New life for historic theater

By Stephanie Graham, Susan Kim. CREATED Aug 26, 2014

WILLIAMS BAY - The old Belfry Theatre sits quietly in Williams Bay, just north of Geneva Lake.

86-year-old Peter Janzen is a former actor for the theatre. He recalls, "It used to be quite popular. We had people coming there all the time."

Janzen played the taxi driver in Belfry Theatre's production of 'Harvey' in 1949. He has fond memories. "It was a nice place, and it was friendly."

But time has taken it's toll on the building, which was built in the 1880's. It started as a Mormon church, and was converted to a theatre in the 1930's. Famous actors like Harrison Ford and Paul Newman are said to have graced the stage, and local businessman Nathan Bond wants to see that history brought back to life.

"At one point this was the only summer stock theatre in Wisconsin," Bond explains.

The Christian theatrical production company Transformative Arts recently bought the theatre at auction, and is working to raise money to restore it. Bond notes, "One of the main concerns of the community was, 'Aww, we don't need another Walgreens. We don't need another gas station.'"

The group hopes to have the new theatre built by next summer. In addition, Transformative Arts plans to restore the Belfry House--a residence area next door to the theatre.

Local journalist Jim McClure has studied the theatre's history. He exclaims, "To sit in that theatre and think, 'Paul Newman was here... To think that Han Solo had his hand on this door, or that Indiana Jones explored this area of the stage.'"

The church bell still works, and if these local activists have anything to do with it, a new generation will get to experience the magic inside these walls.

"I think that is very smart. It's more than smart, it's really good. It's nice to bring that back because we need it here," Peter says.