Stepping into the box office at The Virginia Theatre


Sydney Laput

Stephanie Hege is the box office manager at The Virginia Theatre and oversees the box office staff and operations.

By Alexis Ramirez, Staff Writer

The Virginia Theatre has been part of Champaign-Urbana’s community history for just over a century, and part of box office manager Stephanie Hege’s personal history, ever since she was a student at the University of Illinois in the late 90s.

“This place has always been very, very special to me,” Hege said.

Hege met her husband while doing theater at the University. She said that they’ve performed together on the Virginia Theatre stage, adding that their daughter has since followed in their footsteps via the Champaign Park District Youth Theatre program.

The Virginia Theatre first opened its doors in downtown Champaign in December 1921. It featured vaudeville performances, touring theater productions, live music performances, silent films and talking pictures as well. The Wurlitzer Hope-Jones theater organ played at the grand opening is still used by Virginia Theatre house organist David Schroeder for pre-show performances.

The Champaign Park District acquired the Virginia Theatre in 2000. At that time, Hege said she was studying leisure studies with a concentration in recreation and special events. She added that she had been working for the park district as an intern at the Springer Cultural Center too.

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Hege said the center’s special events and youth theater program attracted her to the internship. There, she worked on the art exhibit for the Taste of Champaign-Urbana.

“The park district had just acquired the Virginia Theatre and they were looking for people to help staff it, so I volunteered and came over here and worked in the office,” she said.

Hege said she went on to work for other Champaign Park District departments before taking some time off with her family. She returned to the Virginia Theatre three and a half years ago.

“When the opportunity came up to come back here — you know, a decade or so later — I was really excited to get back in here because it’s always been something that I’ve loved,” Hege said.

As box office manager, Hege is responsible for overseeing the box office staff and operations. She said that when she’s working in the box office, she takes phone calls and sells tickets. When she is behind the scenes, she also said she sets up the ticket sale pages and works with promoters for local marketing campaigns.

Hege added that she was amazed by the expansion of the programming at the Virginia Theatre when she returned.

Today the theater hosts four film series, touring comedy and music performances, as well as various community events. It is the venue for the park district’s youth theater productions and dance program performances.

“We love that we can be an accessible venue for, like youth theater,” Hege said. “You know, these kids don’t realize they’re performing on a stage that has a hundred-year-old history with union tech workers … Our sound and light systems that we upgraded in the last year or two are just state of the art, top of the line.”

“That’s What She Said,” a show where local women share their stories of empowerment, is set to return to the theater this upcoming February, she said.

Ebertfest — the film festival founded in 1999 by film critic and Illinois alumnus Roger Ebert, his wife Chaz Ebert and the University’s College of Media — is planned to return in late April as well.

The four film series are sponsored by local media organizations. The Arthouse Experience Film Series was recently sponsored by Illinois Public Media.

Hege said the theater’s public ownership does influence the way the Virginia Theatre plans its programming.

“That’s what we try to balance; we have these huge tours that come in — that are national tours, you know, well-known artists — and then we can also serve our community, which is a huge part of what we do.”

Hege hopes that the Virginia Theatre will continue to grow. She noted that Hasan Minhaj and Kurtis Conner’s comedy performances attracted a younger demographic that the theater hadn’t previously seen.

“We would love to bring in just, you know, every generation — have something for you here,” she said. “That would be our favorite thing to do: keep showing movies for the film lovers, keep showing comedians, keep having rock groups, keep having theater.”


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