Geneva Stage

244 Broad Street,
Lake Geneva, WI 53147

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Geneva Stage (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Carmike Cinemas, Nova Cinemas, Standard Theaters Management Corp.

Architects: Anker Sverre Graven, Arthur Guy Mayger

Firms: Graven & Mayger

Functions: Live Music Venue

Styles: Renaissance Revival

Previous Names: Geneva Theatre, Geneva 1 & 2, Geneva 4 Theatre

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 262.763.6789

Nearby Theaters

GENEVA Theatre proscenium, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

The Geneva Theatre opened June 6, 1928 with William Haines in “Telling the World”. Originally a single-screen, 705-seat theatre. It was equipped with a Barton 2 manual 5 ranks organ which was opened by resident organist Buddy Noll & guest organist Jack Hertell. It was twinned in 1975 and was converted into a 4-screen theatre in spring of 1988. It is located in the heart of historic downtown Lake Geneva.

In 2001, the Geneva 4 Theatre was part of the Nova Cinemas chain, which renovated and updated the theatre upon taking it over and screened first-run features.

It was closed in Summer 2008 for renovations and re-opened under a new dynamic management team. There are three theatres on the main floor original orchestra level, one is equipped for plays and concerts, another is for live performances such as ‘open mic’ comedy, small live theatre productions and movies and the third is for movies only. The screen in the former balcony is also used for movies only. As of November 4, 2010, there were no listings available for the Geneva 4 Theatre and it was closed.

In April 2016 it was taken over by a new operator, Shad Branen, a Burlington WI businessman who also own the Burlington Plaza Theatre. It underwent $2Million renovations and reopened March 4, 2017. Seating in the 4-screens of the Geneva Theatre has been reduced to 485. The largest screen has a retractable screen allowing for live productions in addition to its cinema offerings. On May 6, 2020 it had reverted back to a single auditorium and renamed Geneva Stage.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 32 comments)

LouRugani on April 18, 2016 at 6:38 pm

LAKE GENEVA Regional News, April 12, 2016: Burlington businessman Shad Branen is the new owner of the Geneva Theater. In an email, Branen confirmed that he closed on the building on March 30. He said he intends to get renovation work started as soon as he gets the proper permits.

Ken Robers, Lake Geneva building and zoning administrator, said Branen has not yet taken out a building permit on the theater, but he is bringing in contractors to take a look at the structure. “I’m letting them do exploratory surgery,” Robers said. He said the contractors are “poking around” the building. Some are looking at the roof which will require work. Robers said he’s also allowing the contractors to pull some of the old roofing surface off in preparation to putting down a new roof.

In March, the Lake Geneva City Council approved a developer’s agreement with Branen for the renovation of the Geneva Theater. Under the agreement, Branen will receive $895,000 in city Tax Increment Finance district funds to assist in the renovation of the 1920s-era theater at 244 Broad St.

Earlier this year, Branen approached the city with a proposal to renovate and reopen the Geneva as a four-plex movie theater with a seating capacity of about 500. The city had set aside $800,000 from its TIF funds for renovating the theater. When Branen first approached the city in February, he requested $950,000. The $895,000 figure was reached after negotiations between Branen and the city.

Under the developer’s agreement, Branen must complete renovating the theater by Dec. 31, or face fines of $100 per day, to come out of the TIF grant. And he must own the property for at least 10 years and operate the theater as a for-profit entertainment center open to the general public. Forgiveness of the grant phases in during those 10 years. If the theater closes or ceases operation during those 10 years, Branen would owe the unforgiven portion of the grant to the city.

Branen is committed to spending no less than $1.36 million on renovating the building, which does not include the sale price of the property. If at least $1.36 million isn’t spent on the renovations, a dollar for dollar reduction will be made in the TIF grant. Landscaping and exterior improvements to the property must be completed by no later than six months after the theater receives its occupancy permit.

Branen has already renovated one old, historic theater, the Plaza Theater in downtown Burlington. The Plaza, built in 1928, the same year as the Geneva Theater, is slightly smaller. Branen bought it out of bankruptcy in 2010 and turned the business around. Branen is a member of the Branen family which once owned the Burlington Standard newspaper. Over the past five years, Branen has renovated and restored the theater, turning it into as much of a conference, community and special events center as a movie house.

The theater now shows free movies during holidays and school breaks, hosts performances by high school choirs and local bands, shows free Green Bay Packer games and the Super Bowl on the big screen. The theater also has a weekend menu served to patrons along with a selection of macro and micro brews.

Branen said a revitalized Geneva Theater could be used to tailor special events to Lake Geneva.

Trolleyguy on September 15, 2017 at 7:43 am


LouRugani on October 3, 2018 at 11:30 pm

It was the place where people saw their first movie on a big screen, where they had their first bucket of popcorn or their first date. But the future of the theater at 244 Broad St., Lake Geneva, became uncertain after it closed in 2010. At one point, there were plans to turn the historic building — which once hosted appearances by the Marx Brothers, Bela Lugosi and Will Rogers — into a boutique shopping mall. Fate took a different turn, and in 2017, after a renovation, the Geneva Theater reopened. Once again, the theater brings first-run films to downtown Lake Geneva, and the stage that once existed when the theater was built in 1928 has been restored.

Back in the early days of the theater, vaudeville acts performed at least twice a week as a way for owners of the single-screen movie theater to supplement their income. “Just like they did in the late 20s and early 30s, we are using that stage,” said Marie Frederick, Geneva Theater’s events coordinator. Frederick and Geneva Theater owner Shad Branen discussed how the history of the theater guided the new look and plan for the building.

In 1928, the theater was a single-screen auditorium, with 750 seats, including a balcony. At its opening gala June 6, 1928, the theater hosted a screening of “Telling the World,” a comedic drama starring William Haines and Anita Page, released that same year.

Geneva and the Burlington Plaza theaters were both built in 1928 and operated by the same company, Community Theaters Inc. The president of Community Theaters Inc. was William F. Pabst, whom Frederick believes to be a descendant of Frederick Pabst, who was perhaps most remembered as president of Pabst Brewing Co. Coincidentally, Branen also owns the Burlington Plaza. He said the purchase and renovation of Geneva Theater cost in excess of $2 million.

Over the years since its opening gala, Geneva Theater changed ownership. During subsequent renovations, the single auditorium became two screening rooms, then four — three on the ground floor, and the former balcony was turned into the fourth room. By the time Branen was involved, Geneva Theater had been gutted. In the upper-level screening room, the wall with the projection screen had been torn down. Roof leaks caused water damage in Theater 1, the location of the historic stage.

“Usually they’re in pretty rough shape,” said Branen, of old theaters. “Either they’re empty, and sitting empty, or they’ve been repurposed into something else, and to bring them back requires a lot of work because they aren’t the auditoriums that they were.”

Branen discussed renovation plans with Friends of the Geneva Theater, a citizen group which sought to turn the building into a cultural center. He said they tried to keep as much of the old theater intact as they could, but changed other parts to create special event accommodations. Much of Theater 1, including the stage and ceiling, was restored. The wall to the upper-level screening room was rebuilt.

During the renovation, Branen discovered several features of the building that had been walled off — old staircases, including one which led from the main lobby to the old balcony, which is where an alcove now stands that displays old theater pictures. He also found a basement wall signed by those who participated in previous theater programs and productions. The wall has been preserved, and another next to it left blank, waiting to be signed by those who take part in future plays and happenings at the theater. Now, the theater is a place where state-of-the-art projection and sound systems exist alongside images and artifacts from celluloid yesteryear. A table that projectionists used to splice film reels together juts out of the wall near Theaters 3 and 4.

Frederick wants to create historic displays about the people who first opened the theater. But in the last year, Geneva Theater has played host to various private and public gatherings — film festivals, comedy shows, productions by local theater groups.

People tell Branen stories all the time about movies they remembered seeing at Geneva Theater. But to him, right now, Geneva Theater is a success story.“The community of Lake Geneva played a big part in that,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the community support.”

Visit to find out more about movie screenings and special events at the theater.

LouRugani on May 5, 2020 at 5:58 am

Co-owner Shad Branen was determined that the Geneva Theatre would survive the coronavirus shutdown and re-emerge as a cultural center. He and his staff used this downtime to complete cleaning and interior renovation work. Damaged seats were repaired, computer software upgraded, and walls that needed touchup were painted.

“We will be opening up better and cleaner,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to do cleaning and improvements throughout the buildings.”

At the Plaza Theater, Branen said they have stripped and epoxy sealed the floors, a process that typically requires 24 hours to dry, something near impossible when the theater is operational. They have also taken the opportunity to work on cleaning projects and update computer software.

The Plaza Theater originally opened in 1928, the same year as five other theaters opened in the Racine area. “All these theaters have a history dating back to the vaudeville era,” Branen said. The Geneva Theatre was closed and dormant for years before Branen acquired the property and reopened it in March 2017 following an estimated $2 million restoration. The city extended a $900,000 loan for the effort, to be forgiven if Branen owns the theater for at least five years. It’s home to the Geneva Theatre Actors Guild, a group that presents live stage productions and contributes the proceeds to area charitable organizations. The Geneva Theatre Actors Guild planned to resume operations in the fall.

Branen said he had to throw away concession items such as pizza ingredients, and he is no longer ordering soft drinks or beer. He had planned to order a new movie screen, but the manufacturer is temporarily closed. Branen said that he has approximately 20 employees total between two theaters, with a dozen who work at the Plaza in Burlington and some at work at both facilities.

While the theatre offers curbside concessions during limited hours on Friday and Saturday, Branen said the COVID-19 has forced him to furlough “virtually the entire staff.” Branen was recently approved for a paycheck protection program which allowed him to bring back some of his staff, but he looks forward to resuming normal operations as soon as possible. Movie studios currently are not releasing any new movies to theaters. “The biggest challenge theaters will face when reopening is what products will be available from the studios,” said Branen. Some studios have released films instead to online streaming services, but Branen said “I think there will always be a place for movie theaters, because people like to go out.”

plugai on September 22, 2021 at 1:40 pm

My family would come to visit Lake Geneva, Wisconsin during the summers every year during the 1960’s and 1970’s. My first opportunity to see a movie at the Geneva theater was Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte in The Deep in 1977 and later Liar Liar in 1997 with Jim Carey. Great memories from both movies, enjoyment of the theaters architecture, and bringing my future wife on a date to the second movie! Super memories lots of fun.

50sSNIPES on January 23, 2023 at 8:49 am

Once known as the “Geneva 1 & 2” when it was twinned in 1975. The Geneva became a 4-screen theater in the Spring of 1988.

dallasmovietheaters on February 18, 2023 at 4:26 am

The venue opened on June 6, 1928 with William Haynes in “Telling the World” supported by an Andy Gump cartoon and both regular organist Buddy Noll and guest organist Jack Hertell took turns at the new Barton pipe organ. The Golden Voiced Barton Organ, itself, cost $25,000 and was advertised as being as loud as a 75-piece orchestra. On May 9, 1929, the theatre installed Vitaphone to play talking pictures with Dolores Costello in “The Glad Rag Doll.”

Bruce C.
Bruce C. on July 29, 2023 at 2:28 pm

This theater is now called Geneva Stage. Here’s some information taken from their website, “… return to the theater’s original roots, renamed Geneva Stage. Another round of renovations included converting the two side auditoriums to Geneva Tap House, and returning the second floor auditorium to a balcony. The original stage in the main auditorium was restored, including new sound, lighting and video equipment. A large retractable movie screen still allows the showing of movies. And, a fully-refurbished 1920s Wurlitzer is being installed for organ recitals and silent movies.”

50sSNIPES on July 31, 2023 at 2:02 pm

The Geneva closed as a second-run quad in late-2007. It reopened a short time later as a special events, community arts, and live performance theater which also sometimes screen movies. On May 6, 2020, it was renamed Geneva Stage.

50sSNIPES on November 22, 2023 at 12:39 pm

Once operated by Carmike.

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