Al. Ringling Theatre

136 Fourth Avenue,
Baraboo, WI 53913

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Al. Ringling Theatre (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Delft Theaters Inc.

Architects: Cornelius Ward Rapp, George W. Leslie Rapp

Firms: Rapp & Rapp

Functions: Concerts, Movies

Styles: French Renaissance

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 608.356.8864

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AL. RINGLING Theatre; Baraboo, Wisconsin (Derrick Mayoleth photo).

The 830-seat Al. Ringling Theatre was the grandest theatre ever built in Baraboo, which had a few smaller theatres up to that point.

It was built by circus showman Al. Ringling (of the Ringling Brothers) as a gift back to the town in which he grew up and loved. He hired Chicago architectural firm Rapp & Rapp, best known for their Chicago Theatre, to design his playhouse.

Built in French Renaissance style, the Al. Ringling Theatre is as ornate as any European opera house, complete with gilded plasterwork, frescoes and mosaics and antique tapestries. The Al. Ringling Theatre opened on November 17, 1915 to operatic performances, but soon became known for vaudeville and later motion pictures. It was equipped with a Barton 3 manual 9 ranks organ, which is still in use today.

Amazingly, the theatre has remained almost completely intact over the years, despite some 1970’s renovations made with the best intentions that were corrected in the 1990’s. The theatre continues to mainly screen movies, but is also used for live shows, concerts and community gatherings.

It was closed June 15, 2015 for restoration, and reopened February 20, 2016.

Contributed by Jerome Lighthart

Recent comments (view all 42 comments)

ERD on March 23, 2008 at 12:14 pm

What a beautiful theatre! I am glad it is being maintained so well.

Patsy on March 24, 2008 at 8:44 am

Lost Memory: Your “another angle” photo is spectacular! Thanks for sharing…again!

Patsy on July 16, 2008 at 2:42 pm

If ever there was a theatre entrance, this is it with the famous name high above…..Al Ringling! A must-see, in person, someday!

LouisRugani on April 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm

(January 16, 1953) Two Baraboo Theaters Sold to New Milwaukee Company

The Al Ringling theater, “America’s Prettiest Playhouse” since 1915, has been sold with its sister theater, the Juliar, to a new Milwaukee corporation, Baraboo Theaters, Inc., by Henry E. Ringllng.
Purchase price for the theaters was announced at more than $150,000. The Al Ringling theater, when it was completed in 1915, cost $100,000.
The corporation which bought the theaters also operates theaters in Richland Center, Boscobel, Elroy, and Black River Falls. It is headed by Jacob Eskin, president of the Eskin Theater Management Co., Milwaukee.
The Al Ringling theater was built by Albert Ringling, an owner of the Ringling Brothers circus. It seats 834, and at the time it was built was one of the largest and finest theaters in a city of its size in the country.
The Juliar, a much smaller theater, was completed in 1938 by Henry E. Ringling, in memory of Mrs. Selome Juliar Ringling, mother of the Ringling brothers.
The Al Ringling theatre originally was built for legitimate theatre, or as an “opera house.” It was converted to a movie theater later. It is still used for area theatrical performances.
Famous actors who have visited the theater during the time it was an opera house include Lionel Barrymore and Charlotte Greenwood.
Henry E. Ringling, Wisconsin Republican national committeeman, was in Washington for the inauguration Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

paulnelson on May 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Incredible detail here. Classic.

LouRugani on December 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Just for accuracy’s sake, officially the theatre’s name has a period after the name ‘Al’.

Trolleyguy on June 14, 2015 at 11:35 am

The theatre will close June 15, 2015 for restoration and reopen in February 2016.

AlRingling on February 25, 2016 at 10:45 am

LouRugani on October 5, 2019 at 12:44 am

Tom McEvilly, the new CEO at the Al. Ringling Theatre, wants to involve the Baraboo community with new programs and shows. “These theaters don’t exist anymore, they’re made into parking lots, they’re made into multiplexes or they’re like antique malls,” said McEvilly. “I’m really glad that this community was wise enough and dedicated enough and passionate enough to save it.” He plans to introduce youth theater classes including orientation and acting courses taught by theater professionals, and students will perform two shows a year. McEvilly says he plans to teach a couple of classes as well.

“You need to create that beginning base where they appreciate what we have, and they want to have the same passion to keep this place alive,” said McEvilly. “In our theater here, we have the high school and our parochial schools and our dance studios from the area that come and perform here. And when they come and have that opportunity here, they carry that love for this place throughout their entire lives.”

McEvilly looks forward to bringing many shows to the theater in the coming year, including live music performances, dance companies and comedic events that all generations can enjoy. Al. Ringling Theater Board President Aural Umhoefer said McEvilly’s theater experience will help secure the future of the historic playhouse. “He’s very experienced, so he’s very good to work with, he knows how to manage all aspects of a theater, which will benefit the Al. in the future.”

Throughout October, the theater will host a variety of live events, with Pink Droyd, a Pink Floyd cover band performing Saturday, and Charlie Berenes from Manitowoc Minute on Oct. 26. At the end of October and beginning of November, a theater guild that has performed in the theater for almost 60 years will be perform the musical “Pippin.” The theater also will host comedic acts such as VODville, a group of Hollywood actors to recreate original slapstick comedy similar to the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin. The theater also will present an original version of “Saturday Night Live” with local actors in the comedic sketches.

McEvilly said theater has directed theater productions in Madison, Chicago and Germany, and written three musicals. Until recently he was a theater and communications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County. He also served as the youth theater director at Portage Center for the Arts from 2015 to 2017 and holds six degrees from UW-Madison, including a doctorate in education administration with a focus in fine arts administration and fundraising. He also worked as a teacher of theater with gifted and special needs students.

LouRugani on March 21, 2024 at 11:50 am

Wisconsin Historical Society Acquires Al. Ringling Theatre

Historic Baraboo theatre will become an extension of the Society’s Circus World operations and continue to serve as a home for the local and regional arts

Madison, WI-The Wisconsin Historical Society will acquire the Al. Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wis., after working with the Al. Ringling Theatre Friends, Inc., to secure $3.07 million from community donors to ensure the long-term future of the beloved regional theatre. The 700-seat theatre was built in 1915 by Al Ringling, co-founder with his brothers of the world-renowned Ringling Brothers Circus, and designed in the opulent style of grand French opera houses. Ringling built the theatre for the Baraboo community in a show of appreciation for the town that the Ringling Brothers called home and the original site of the Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters. Through the years, the theatre has hosted national touring companies, vaudeville, motion pictures and more, bringing performing arts and culture to Baraboo and the greater South-Central Wisconsin region.

“The Al. Ringling Theatre is one of the first examples of opulent design applied to the moving picture theatre in this country and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1976,” said Christian Overland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director and CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “It is an architectural masterpiece that puts Wisconsin within the broader context of the history of the United States. Acquiring the Al. to operate with the rest of the Society’s historic sites is a natural tie to our mission of connecting people to history by sharing stories and serving communities throughout our great state. We are grateful for the incredible support from the people of Baraboo-a place that is rich with history and a community where the Society has strong roots already with Circus World.”

Discussions for a change in ownership began in July 2022. The Society completed a feasibility study in February 2023 and outlined a potential model in which the theatre would become an extension of Circus World operations, which is one of 12 historic sites in the Society’s portfolio. The plan required $3.07 million in private support for facility improvements, transition costs and an operating endowment. That fundraising goal was met earlier this month and the endowment funds will be held by the Community Foundation of South Central Wisconsin.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Baraboo community members who stepped up to ensure the legacy of Al Ringling’s gift to this town can live for generations to come,” said Charlene Flygt, president of Al. Ringling Theatre Friends, Inc.

The Society’s Board of Curator’s voted to approve the theater acquisition on March 15, 2024. Programming is expected to ramp up slowly to ensure a sustainable transition and a technical director will be hired to oversee onsite operations.

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