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A Summer Changed

Adapting an Ann Arbor institution for COVID-19.
By Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10

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What was expected to be another warm season of gathering and enjoying Ann Arbor is now one of cancellations and uncertainty. “We were open 365 days a year, every day,” says Russ Collins, ’70, MA’81, executive director and CEO of the State Theatre as well as the nearby Michigan Theater. “And then, one day, that stopped.”

The city’s staple summer events, including the Summer Festival, Art Fair, and Sonic Lunch concert series, were also called off for the year.

Personally, it was a very dislocating feeling,” Collins continues. “It’s not the same as the seasonal downturns, but a sudden new way of business.”

Some establishments adapted to continue operation — as the ubiquity of curbside service or delivery options for restaurants attests. The State Theatre pivoted to a broad offering of special programming:

  • A Virtual Movie Palace that offers rentals and purchases for new movies as well as online versions of signature showcases like the State Theatre Late Nights series
  • A new Cocktail Cinema series, where virtual attendees watch a selected movie and then come together to learn how to mix drinks and discuss the film
  • Partnerships with streaming platforms like The Criterion Collection to offer special discounts and trials
  • A limited form of curbside pickup for concession snacks

While the State is embracing and enduring current circumstances, Collins is thinking of the reopening process. For example, fewer overall movie screenings will allow deeper cleaning protocols and Plexiglas shields will provide protection at concessions.

“People want to go out and be social. They want to sit down and look at a menu, go out on the town, and see their favorite movie. This chapter may be temporarily closed, but things will gradually get back to normal. I’m very much looking forward to seeing downtown be active again.”


Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10, is assistant editor of Michigan Alumnus.

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