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Oriental Theatre to Remain Closed into Fall of 2020 

Milwaukee Film to complete largest phase of renovation as public-health restrictions continue 


MILWAUKEE – Tuesday, June 23, 2020 – As part of Milwaukee Film’s ongoing commitment to operate and restore the historic Oriental Theatre, the nonprofit announced today that extensive renovations to the main and east theaters will take place over the summer. For the next few months, the Oriental Theatre will remain closed. 


“Thanks to the generosity of more than 900 contributors, Milwaukee Film has donor-designated funds for restoring the Oriental Theatre,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director for Milwaukee Film. “By accepting those funds and by signing a decades-long lease to operate the theater, we took on the role of stewards of this historic cinema palace." 


“Our operations have been highly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has created significant uncertainty over when we’ll be able to safely open our doors again to large crowds,” he continued. “We are, however, able to safely embark on several long-planned restoration projects that, if not done now, would require future shutdown of the cinema." 


The restoration work includes replacing seats and carpeting, improving sightlines and sound quality, restoring plaster on the ceiling and walls, and beginning the process for installation of the 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ Milwaukee Film previously announced it secured for the Oriental Theatre. 


 “The Oriental Theatre has long been a gathering space for Milwaukee to participate in the arts, and Milwaukee Film is helping to ensure it will be part of our community for generations,” said Patti Keating Kahn, board chair for Milwaukee Film. “Going forward with this work now is an important decision, and as we’ve reached out to our major donors, they’ve been extremely supportive that this is the perfect time for restoration to ensure we’re ready when it’s safe to bring film back to a packed house.” 


In spring of 2019, Milwaukee Film met its fundraising goal for the Oriental Theatre capital campaign, with Chris Abele, co-founder of Milwaukee Film, having kicked off the campaign with a lead donation of $2 million. Donald and Donna Baumgartner; the Herzfeld Foundation; the Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Charitable Fund; Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig; and The Yabuki Family Foundation provided additional lead donations. 


Milwaukee Film anticipates that the work to the main and east houses will run into the fall. Similar restoration work was completed in 2019 in the west house. 


With the restoration work and the uncertainties of the pandemic, Milwaukee Film’s planned late-night, “rowdy” screenings of Cats – originally scheduled for March and moved to August – are now canceled. Customers who purchased advance tickets will be notified via email about their refund options. 


Milwaukee Film continues to offer curated films through Sofa Cinema, its virtual cinema portal proudly supported by Associated Bank. Current titles are available at




About Milwaukee Film  

Milwaukee Film is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to entertaining, educating, and engaging our community through cinematic experiences, with a vision to make Milwaukee a center for film culture. Milwaukee Film operates the magnificent Oriental Theatre, a historic cinema palace committed to high-quality and accessible film and education programming. The 12th annual Milwaukee Film Festival will be held Oct. 15-29, 2020. For more information or to become a Member, visit


Facebook: | Twitter: @mkefilm | Instagram: @mkefilm 


About the Milwaukee Film Board of Directors 

Milwaukee Film’s independent board is made up of the following members: Chris Abele (Past Board Chair), John P. Bania, Donna Baumgartner, Elizabeth Brenner, Lori Brissette, Kathryn Murphy Burke, Héctor Colón, Karen Ellenbecker, Jeff Fitzsimmons, Alexander P. Fraser (Immediate Past Board Chair), Carmen Haberman, Susan Haise, Katie Heil, Patti Keating Kahn (Board Chair), Michael G. Klein, Tracey L. Klein (Past Board Chair), Michael J. Koss Jr., Ken Krei, Alexander Lasry, Steve Laughlin (Past Board Chair), Emilia Layden, Michael R. Lovell, Joan Lubar, Marianne Lubar, Steve Mech, Susan Mikulay, Mark Mone, Kenneth W. Muth, John Ridley, Joseph A. Rock, Lacey Sadoff, Dave Stamm, James E. Stoll, Julia Taylor, John Utz and Kimberly Walker, and emeritus members Tom Barrett and Jacqueline Strayer. 

Posted by: Tom Fuchs