Lake Forest’s Jan Gibson embraces her new role at Genesee Theatre

Linda Blaser
lblaser@pioneerlocal.com | @LindaJBlaser
July 28 12:20 p.m.

Genesee Theatre

No expense was spared in 1927 when the Genesee Theatre — a “deluxe palace” — was constructed and equipped with the latest technology to accommodate live theater, musical presentations and film.

The Genesee closed in 1989. The City of Waukegan purchased the building 10 years lager and began renovations at a cost of almost $23 million with the help of over 120 volunteers.

The Genesee reopened on Dec. 3, 2004, with two sold-out shows featuring Bill Cosby.

In her second week as general manager of the historic Genesee Theatre, Jan Gibson of Lake Forest is almost like a kid in a candy store.

She walks quickly from the basement of the five-story building in downtown Waukegan to show off the gigantic original air-conditioner — the first in Lake County — to the seven dressing rooms with a dozen mirrors each, rimmed in stage lights. She points out the laundry facilities, where entertainers might need to have something washed or ironed, the Green Room for the star’s entourage, and heads up to the main lobby and grand foyer. She ascends the stairs quickly, past the giant Baccarat chandelier and a historic organ, and makes a quick run-through of the museum on the second floor.

Only then does she open the doors to the elegant theater with 2,400-plus plush red velvet seats, gold-gilded walls and ceilings, elaborate plaster moulding and eye-stopping chandeliers.

“Wow, what a building,” Gibson admits was her reaction when she first stepped inside.

The new general manager feels the Genesee position “is the combination of all the jobs I had,” she said.

A former speech and English teacher, Gibson later started her own computer training business with 50 employees. She sold that, then worked for an international firm in accounting and building management. When she moved to Lake Forest 20 years ago, Gibson wasted no time getting involved in local historic preservation efforts.

At the Genesee, Gibson believes she has found her true niche.

“I just fell into just the greatest job in the world,” she said. “This is such a wonderful place.”

Working with the Friends of Genesee Theatre and her staff, which Gibson describes as “wonderful,” the exuberant new manager is on a mission.

“My mission is to make this a destination,” she said.

Since starting in her new role, Gibson has discovered strong local support from Waukegan art, historic and business groups, which she describes as a “breath of fresh air.”

Drawing on that support, Gibson hopes to make the Genesee the area’s go-to destination.

“This theater is really the jewel of the county, the jewel of the region. It should remain that way,” she said.

Her initial goals include ramping up the shows, which she calls “incredible,” to 200 this year, including comedy, music and children’s programming and packaging them as a subscription series or even a regular Girls Night Out draw.

Tapping into the Genesee’s growing special-events business is another goal.

“We have seven lounges,” she said. “One is on top of the marquee.”

The elegant theater is also a popular wedding site.

“Who knew?” Gibson said, but now realizes how the theater’s lobbies, lounges and stage can be the perfect nuptial setting.

Already, Gibson has met with local business and civic leaders to establish ties and start working together.

“We need to communicate better with local restaurants,” she said, to build Waukegan and the Genesee as a popular dining and entertainment center.

Embracing the community and her staff, which she said works hard to make a difference in Waukegan, and weaving in her North Shore ties may draw more patrons and brand the Geneses as a regional destination.

“This has been a great experience,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful place.”

Genesee Theatre

No expense was spared in 1927 when the Genesee Theatre — a “deluxe palace” — was constructed and equipped with the latest technology to accommodate live theater, musical presentations and film.

The Genesee closed in 1989. The City of Waukegan purchased the building 10 years lager and began renovations at a cost of almost $23 million with the help of over 120 volunteers.

The Genesee reopened on Dec. 3, 2004, with two sold-out shows featuring Bill Cosby.

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