Fargo Theatre Q&A with its Executive Director, Emily Beck

The Fargo Theatre is the most iconic spot in Fargo. The marquee is featured in photos, works of art, on t-shirts, on postcards, and in street murals. The art-deco interior is a nod to the Theatre’s history as the oldest vaudeville theater in Fargo. It’s a center for arts and entertainment in Downtown Fargo, not to mention a film house for movie lovers of all varieties.

This heart of Fargo has an interesting background. We talked with its Executive Director, Emily Beck, about what makes it beat.

Tell us a little about the Fargo Theatre’s history:

Emily: When the Fargo Theatre first opened in 1926, movie tickets cost just 25 cents for adults. It was an era of silent cinema – one year before the movies learned to talk. The first film screened at the Fargo Theatre was The Man on the Box starring Syd Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s brother). The Theatre also had a vaudeville stage for live entertainment.

The Theatre has been in operation for 93 years, constantly evolving with the film industry and the city it calls home. It is now the region’s only art house cinema, specializing in independent and international film programming. The Fargo Theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ten years ago, the Theatre added a second auditorium as a part of an urban infill project. The Fargo Theatre produces the annual Fargo Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 20th year in March 2020.

Today, the Theatre continues the tradition of live entertainment by offering performances by both local performing arts groups and professional touring artists. The Theatre shows about 100 movie titles a year.

Which famous people have visited the Fargo Theatre?

Emily: Many famous people have appeared on the Theatre’s stage throughout the years including Babe Ruth, silent film starts Tom Mix and Colleen Moore, actress Janet Leigh (who starred in Psycho and may other films), Billy Crystal, Jeff Daniels, Weird Al, rock icon Jack White, Sara Bareilles, John C. Reilly, director Kevin Smith, and many, many more.

What’s something most people don’t know about the Fargo Theatre?

Emily: We are so much more than a marquee! Our marquee is a wonderful photo op and we are proud to be a local landmark, but the arts programming offered inside of the Theatre is the heart of the organization.

We try to offer a little something for everyone: new release and classic film, all genres of live music, stand-up comedy, dance, and community events.

What events draw the most people during the year?

Emily: The Blenders’ series of holiday concerts and the annual Fargo Film Festival each bring in thousands of people, but it is actually our daily movie screenings that bring in the largest annual total attendance.

What hidden gems can someone find when visiting the Fargo Theatre?

Emily: “Wood Chip Marge” is truly one of our treasures. It is a wooden statue carved in the likeness of Frances McDormand’s character Marge Gunderson from the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film FARGO. Embracing the dark sense of humor that runs through the picture, Wood Chip Marge was created by MGM for FARGO’s DVD release. She currently resides in the Theatre’s mezzanine.

A second hidden gem sits just below the stage. The Mighty Wurlitzer is a 1926 pipe organ. Before “talkies” (movies with sound), the Mighty Wurlitzer would play a silent movie’s score in real time. The pipes are encased behind the walls of the stage, and the organ itself is on a lift so it dramatically rises from the stage as the organist plays. It is the largest theatre organ between Minneapolis and Seattle, and is still played before weekend movies and for theatre tours.

About the marquee:

Emily: The Fargo Theatre’s marquee is not copyright and we are not actively pursuing a copyright at this time.

If you had to recommend five events to attend at the Theatre, what would they be?

Emily: The Fargo Film Festival (of course!), the Classic Film Series, the FM Ballet’s annual spring performance, and then a live music concert and a live stand-up comedy performance.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Emily: Maintaining the Theatre’s historic facility takes a whole lot of love and a considerable amount of support from the community. Many people think we are owned/operated/funded by the City of Fargo, but that is not the case. We are a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization — people can support the Theatre by attending any of our films or events, making donations, or participating in our membership program. Also, I might be biased, but I think we have the best popcorn in town!