By Cassidy Scherzer, Current Staff
One area student has gained behind-the-scenes experience at the Bend, West Bend’s historic theater that survived the Great Depression and now a global pandemic.
Lauren Panten, a senior at West Bend West High School, started working at the Bend in January 2021 after applying for an open position. She began selling concessions, cleaning and starting the movies. A few months later, Panten also became the primary organizer of the theater’s Instagram page.
Like many individuals, Panten was nervous for her interview, but was pleasantly surprised with the environment within the theater.
“It felt more like a conversation with an old friend, than it did a job interview,” Panten said. “The people (at the Bend) are so friendly and so kind.”
After she was hired Panten quickly gained responsibility and was soon doing marketing for the theater.
“This past summer I helped with a lot of the emails that went out to those who subscribed to (the Bend) and I created a lot of social media posts as well,” Panten said. “Managing social media from a business perspective is very different from how I’d normally use it. You have to consider our audience, your information, and how everything would look from a customer’s point of view.”
The historic theater originally opened in 1929 and survived until it closed in 2006. After a brief run as an art film venue in 2007, the theater was bought by a non-profit organization, Historic West Bend Theater, Inc. The building was restored, and then reopened in March 2020 with many historic features intact.
“It’s awesome because we were originally opened a long time ago, so there are a lot of people who come in that are really excited to tell us that they had their first dates with their husbands or their wives here or it’s their first time coming back since their childhood,” Panten said.
The Bend reopened just as the pandemic began to rapidly spread and as to be expected, this brought along some difficulties for the Bend.
“The theater finally reopened after over a decade in March of 2020,” Panten said. “However, this was the day before everything shut down (due to COVID) which was really unfortunate. We only had one show before the theater was closed again.”
Panten began working at the Bend in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed her excitement as normalcy is beginning to return to the theater.
“It’s been really cool seeing (the theater) go from smaller capacities because of COVID up to full capacity where it is now,” Panten said. “Our goal is to be more of a live performance-based theater and we’ve finally been able to have more comedians and (theatrical performances) again.”
This historic theater has been through a course of ups and downs, but finally live shows are becoming more frequent. This success allows the theater to remain a living part of West Bend’s history.
“The theater contains many pieces from the original building. A lot of the artwork and some features are modern interpretations of what they were in 1929,” Panten said. “The building holds memories and it’s so exciting to see people get so happy about its reopening.”
(Photos courtesy of Lauren Panten and the Historic West Bend Theatre.)