The Historic Gillioz theater lit up at night. The sign indicates that they are showing the princess bride.
The historic Gillioz Theatre lit up at night. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Did you attend a show at the Gillioz Theatre in recent years and regret not buying a piece of the performers’ merchandise to memorialize a memorable night? 

Downtown Springfield’s Gillioz Theatre is hosting a poster auction, featuring autographed posters of various performances that have been held at the historic venue over the years.

A poster to be auctioned by the Gillioz. (Source: Geoff Steele)

The auction opens on Sep. 6 at 6 a.m. and closes on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. It will be held entirely online, with bidding starting at $50 per poster. However, customers can avoid the auctioning process altogether and buy a poster outright for $350. 

This is not the first poster auction for the theater, as the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the Gillioz to put their historical archives up for auction in 2020. In that auction, the vast majority of participants opted to buy posters outright for $350, according to Executive Director Geoff Steele. Also, every poster they made available in 2020 sold, bringing in more than $25,000. 

This time around, they have fewer posters for sale, but no doubts in their ability to find a buyer for each one. The lineup features autographed posters from Brandi Carlile, Styx, Norm McDonald, Machine Gun Kelly and Don McLean, among others.

“The Gillioz survived the pandemic shutdown, thanks in part to the support generated from this auction,” the theater’s website reads. “The need to preserve and maintain this historic structure continues and that brings us here.”

Immortalizing history, one show at a time

According to Steele, the archiving of the posters didn’t begin until 2014, when he and his wife, Joy Bilyeu-Steele, were hired. 

“One of the things that we recognized was the theater didn’t have a fully developed sense of identity as far as being an institution that had been here, at that point for 89 years,” Steele said. “We saw so few things that were left from the early days that I really wish that I had, that I want to make sure that we’re preserving our part of history.”

The coronavirus, however, has not been the only cause of the theater’s financial struggles. In a previous story by the Springfield Daily Citizen, Reporter Sony Hocklander looked into the ups and downs of the theater in its 96-year history, and the problems it has faced since its grand reopening in 2006.

In 2013, the Gillioz went bankrupt and was subsequently nearly auctioned off and foreclosed, before Prime, Inc. owner Robert Low’s last-minute heroics when he bought the building and continued leasing it to the executive board.

The pandemic, which has been a bane to the performing arts industry, brought on its own unique challenge by forcing the theater to close its doors for sixteen months. Upon reopening, similarly as before, the Gillioz had no problem selling tickets and maintaining day-to-day operations, but as the building aged, so did its infrastructure. 

Despite being a magnet for out-of-town concert-goers and Springfieldians alike, the Gillioz, a nonprofit listed on the National Register of Historical Places, doesn’t boast the budget to consistently take on big, and necessary renovation projects.

(The Gillioz Theatre is listed on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Pricy projects: what has been repaired and what still needs to be

Some of the facelifts the theater has managed to find the funding for are the installation of a new roof this summer, which, according to Steele, cost nearly $100,000, and expensive tuckpointing, which is currently underway. 

The urgency of addressing some of these issues became more apparent recently. On Aug. 5, Springfield and some surrounding areas experienced a brief but torrential downpour that caused significant flooding in the Gillioz. 

The Gillioz subsequently sent out a plea for help. As of publishing, it has only raised $2,210 out of the $40,000 goal. According to Steele, much of the inner lobby ceiling will need to be replaced.

In other areas of concern, the aging HVAC system is on its last legs, which Steele estimates could cost somewhere between $600,000 to $800,000 to replace. In terms of solutions, while fundraisers such as the poster auction help, the ultimate objective is advocacy. 

“I think a lot of people realize it’s a really special room to see a show in,” Steele said. “To recognize that it goes so much beyond a show, we get to create these memories which is really a fulfilling part of what we do. But, the brass tacks of what happens economically for Springfield by having a theater like this operational, that’s a pretty big concern for me, to make sure everybody understands it.”

Steele stressed the financial impact the Gillioz has on Springfield, and wanted to ensure that community members and city leaders were aware of how important it is to nearby hotels, restaurants and shops.

Where do they go from here?

The Gillioz Theatre. (Photo: Gillioz)

Despite the challenges they have ahead of them, Steele expressed hope for the future, as they are currently in the midst of their busiest year since reopening in 2006. Between community support, fundraisers and increased frequency of shows and movies, they’ve been able to insulate their revenue streams. 

“I’m extremely aware that I’m part of a chapter in a larger story,” Steele said. “This thing’s been around for a hundred years, and I’ve been here eight.”

Steele also acknowledged that one show at the Gillioz could be a very important chapter in someone’s life, whether it be the site of a first date between people who end up getting married or the destination on the night they propose. Or the theater might simply be the place their favorite artist performed live in a historic, intimate theater.

The poster auction gives people the opportunity to commemorate that night, and support the venue that made it happen.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is a general assignment reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen, with a focus on regional politics. McGee most recently worked at Carbon Trace Productions, a documentary film company, as a producer. He’s a Missouri State University graduate and former reporter at student-led newspaper The Standard. More by Jack McGee