Q&A with Alex Kudrna – Owner of the Orpheum Theater

Q&A with Alex Kudrna – Owner of the Orpheum Theater

Get out the popcorn as we sit down for this exclusive Q&A with Alex Kudrna, the owner of the Kenosha Orpheum Theater.

Q. You graduated from Madison Media Institute with a bachelor’s degree in filmmaking, what inspired your love of filmmaking?

Alex: I have always enjoyed movies and just like the stage in my backyard, I have always had a camcorder recording short films with the neighbor kids. When I watched a movie as a kid and even now, I watch the movie and figure out how it was made or continuity issues. I find enjoyment in watching behind the scenes clips and seeing the magic and tons of creative people coming together to tell a story for an audience.

Q. What generated your interest to the Orpheum building and why did you buy it in September 2016?  

Alex: As a kid I have always wanted to own a theater. My parents allowed me to build a stage in the backyard of my childhood home and every time we had guests over I would get the neighborhood kids together and put on shows for the guests. When I started to look a buildings, this was the first one that I saw in Downtown Kenosha. I fell in love with the Orpheum the first time I walked through; I knew I wanted the building.

Q. Did you find anything interesting inside the building when you purchased it in 2016?

Alex: As we begin to clean up the building from years of vacancy and renovations.  I found original ceilings that were hidden by drop ceilings, found plasterwork and old windows framed up behind drywall. A lot of hidden crawl spaces and nooks. We even found a Playboy magazine from the 70s in the electrical closet.

Some elements of the theatre look exactly how it did after the final movie in early 2000, like this soda cup still at the chair.

Q. Over the past 25 years, there has been a cycle of owners (Jeff Maher, Paul McDonough, Heim family) who bought the Orpheum, had big dreams, put a ton of money into it, and then ultimately failed. Have you learned anything from their experiences and how will your legacy be different?

Alex:The Orpheum had a lot of owners over the years. I feel they caused a lot of historical damage in 1990’s when they tried to save the theater by adding four theaters. For the short time that it was open I don’t feel it was worth it to destroy the architecture and history of the theater. The two owners after the 90s did a lot to preserve the building and added much needed infrastructure. Work included: new storefront windows, upper windows, heating/cooling, electrical upgrades, and plumbing, I feel each owner worked to upgrade the space so it can continue to stand and be a usable building. I have learned it is not cheap to keep up a building of this scale or historic nature. It takes someone with the love of history to truly care about it. My goals are to keep moving forward and making sure the infrastructure is adequate to keep it around for another 100 years and of course have a working theater!

Q. In regards to the Orpheum building, what goals have you accomplished in the last five years? 

Alex: Over the last 5 years I have been able to replace the entire roof, upgrade the fire escape, tuck pointing, renovated, and opened office space on the second floor, clean up and revitalize the original theater lobby. 

Q. The Orpheum turns 100 this year, do you have anything special planned? 

Alex: For the 100th anniversary we are planning on a 2-day block party. I can’t release to many details yet, but you won’t want to miss this event!

Q. In 2016, you dreamed of having a full building, with a movie theater, concert venue, restaurant, and more. Now five years later, what realistic goals have you set for the future of the building?

Alex: Goals for the future include to install a new elevator and renovate the remaining two floors into additional office space. I plan to work on moving the theater into the next stages of renovation. I have a lot of people asking when the theater will be done and it’s not that easy. To renovate the theater back to the original 1920’s feel it will take 12-15 million dollars and 2 years of construction. My goal is to be as historic as possible with 1,400 seats. The theater will offer live performances, movies, weddings, and other special events. I don’t want people to lose faith in the Orpheum, I want them to know I have a lot of drive to make the theater happen. Again, this is the main reason I bought the building, I won’t be giving up on that dream.

Q. What services does your production company Backyard Dream Studios offer? 

Alex: Backyard Dream Studios offer; Video Production, Live Event Production, Post Production, Studio and Gear Rentals, and System Integrations.

Q. How did you come up with the name Backyard Dream Studios?

Alex: The name Backyard Dream Studios was my mom’s idea. My backyard was where I had the dream of where I am today. The name fit well and tells the story of who I am and what my company can offer.  We want to give our clients the dream to create. “You have the Dream; we have the Talent”

The theaters in the upper floor (once the balcony to the original theatre), have not changed much since its closing in 2000.

Q. You also offer office space rentals in the Orpheum, what do you offer to the startup business to get them started in the right direction?

Alex: The “O” Co-working space was a created to assist start up businesses and even established businesses. We offer private offices, open seating, printing, wi-fi, conference room, and mail services. As a startup business, I knew it’s not easy or cheap. I wanted to create a space to help people get their businesses started, have a brick-and-mortar place to take clients, and business mailing address. We also can connect members with business professionals if they need help in any aspect of their business. I want to see every entrepreneur succeed.

Q. You are a busy man as you also server on the DKI. and Kenosha Lakeshore Business Improvement District boards, how has that experience been in trying to improve the Downtown area?

Alex: My experience on both boards has been great. It may not always be easy to accomplish projects right away, but we all have the same goal of how we can add value the business owners and patrons of Downtown Kenosha. We have lots of great projects in the works for the coming year.

Q. What do you like to do on your time off? If you get any?

Alex: Time off… What is that? As a small business owner, you truly never get time off, but you must make time. When I get time off, I like to spend time with family and friends. I enjoy time to relax and truly recharge.

For more on the history of the Orpheum, click here

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(This article first appeared in the Downtown Kenosha Magazine Winter Vol. 15 #1 2022)
Q&A by Donny Stancato
Photos by Donny Stancato & Jason Hedan
Edited by Jason Hedman