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State Theater working to become a hub for creatives in Harford County

It was just a few months ago, January, that the State Theater of Havre de Grace opened as a 14,000-square-foot multi-purpose venue.

It might as well have been a lifetime ago, as owner Jared Noe has had to learn quickly and finds ways to keep moving forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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“It definitely hurt us,” Noe said. “We were ramping up very quick.”

While Noe estimates he’s losing from $10,000 to $50,000 a month, he has found a variety of ways to make money and keep shows happening at what he and others hope will become an arts epicenter.

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“It’s an amazing venue. It’s a hidden gem,” Noe said. “We knew we wanted to base it in Harford County. There really isn’t anything [like this nearby].

The 35-year-old spent two years in renovation to offer space for comedians, music acts, theater productions and film screenings. It’s also home to Noe’s media production company, Suited Four Inc.

Jared Noe, owner and GM of The State Theater of Havre de Grace, has been hosting virtual events and concerts at the venue during the COVID-19 shut down.
Jared Noe, owner and GM of The State Theater of Havre de Grace, has been hosting virtual events and concerts at the venue during the COVID-19 shut down. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Having that business in the venue allowed for a seamless transition to producing and then streaming performances during the early months of the pandemic shutdown.

“That has been the saving grace,” Noe said. “We have not technically closed down.”

Live streamed online performances, which featured up to seven bands, have attracted between 5,000 and 10,000 viewers. Musical acts were able to enter the building from different doors and perform in separate areas, helping to limit the possibility of exposure.

“Everyone was bringing their own microphones so they weren’t cross-contaminated,” Noe explained.

And although numbers have dropped to between 1,000 to 3,000 viewers per performance, those associated with the theater are confident that they are ahead of the curve on a future business model.

Jared Noe, owner and GM of The State Theater of Havre de Grace, operates camera equipment as the Rescue Party, an 80s cover band, rehearse on the stage. Noe has been hosting virtual events and concerts at the venue during the COVID-19 shut down.
Jared Noe, owner and GM of The State Theater of Havre de Grace, operates camera equipment as the Rescue Party, an 80s cover band, rehearse on the stage. Noe has been hosting virtual events and concerts at the venue during the COVID-19 shut down. (Kenneth K. Lam)

“What the pandemic has been teaching us is that the reality and the accessibilities of virtual shows isn’t going away,” said Ed Nennan, a musician who also volunteers at the venue. “They will become a new facet of how we as musicians and communicators connect with our audiences. Virtual shows were always lurking in the background. It wasn’t until the pandemic crept up, it carved a niche for virtual entertainment to say, ‘OK, it’s my time now.‘ ”

Nennan knows that more logistics need to be worked out to keep the theater viable.

“The challenge that the theater faces will be finding the proper mix of how to monetize performances both with virtual ticketing as well as walk-up live ticketing,” he said. ”It still needs to be figured out.”

Because the venue has a catering kitchen, it will eventually be able to serve food at events or offer dinner theater productions.

Currently, the capacity for the venue is 150 people. But once social distancing rules are more relaxed, it will accommodate close to 400 people.

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The old State Theater, seen here in 2014, has gone through “multiple renovations through the years,” according to Jared Noe.
The old State Theater, seen here in 2014, has gone through “multiple renovations through the years,” according to Jared Noe. (photo by Scott Serio / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

There’s a sense of history here

The building, which was built in 1927 as a movie theater, has gone through “multiple renovations through the years,” according to Noe.

The space was used as a church from the 1990s to the early 2000s. It has a stage “built for no-amplification acoustics.”

Noe boasts: “You can hear a whisper off that stage.”

Neenan said the building also has a lot of appeal from a marketing standpoint.

“It offers a space that is unlike anything else I have seen in the county,” he said.

With its Art Deco feel, Neenan said, the venue reminds him of the theaters in the greater Philadelphia area.

“They have been successful because they have the ability to offer that more intimate experience,” he said. “The opportunity is certainly there. When you match that with the quaintness of St. John’s Street, it seems like a natural.”

The theater helps to create an arts epicenter in Havre de Grace, according to Neenan.

“The growth that the area of Havre de Grace has seen — it makes for a really exciting possibility,” he said.

Mike Miltenberger, from left, Ed Neenan, David Buckner and Aaron Harris members of The Rescue Party, an 80s cover band, rehearse at The State Theater of Havre de Grace. Ownership of the venue has been hosting virtual events and concerts during the COVID-19 shut down.
Mike Miltenberger, from left, Ed Neenan, David Buckner and Aaron Harris members of The Rescue Party, an 80s cover band, rehearse at The State Theater of Havre de Grace. Ownership of the venue has been hosting virtual events and concerts during the COVID-19 shut down. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Much more to come

Katie Johnson, the theater’s director of operations and events, plans to create a monthly 1940s jazz club concept, Midnight at the Lafayette Lounge, in the theater.

Johnson said the theater offers a much-needed incubator space for local artists.

“The thing that I love about the State, we are very focused on working with up-and-coming creatives,” she said. “They don’t have to jump through hurdles to thrive and perform.”

Johnson described the theater as a collaborative and open space.

“The exciting thing is that this is a place where people can bring in their own ideas and creative tendencies,” she said. “Those are the types of people that we want to work with in Harford County. I’m excited to see what we can do for ourselves and the Harford creative community in general.”

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