Bemidji's historic Chief Theater is a refurbished Art Deco movie house that now serves as a top performance venue for the arts community of north central Minnesota. Its primary tenant is the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, the longest continuously-running (1951-present) summer stock theater company in Minnesota.
The most problematic aspect of the Chief Theater is that after the Paul Bunyan Playhouse moved into the space in 1992, its identity largely vanished from the greater community. Despite its prominent location and memorable Art Deco architecture, the community at large began referring to the facility as "the Playhouse," unifying the identity of the Chief with that of its tenant. To make matters even more confusing, the Playhouse actually owns the Chief. So, which is it? The Chief? The Playhouse? After 20 years in the facility, the board of directors wished to separate the two identities, while at the same time making it clear that they are intrinsically and fundamentally connected with each other.
Evensen Creative was tasked with developing a new identity for the Chief. The facility's personality had been pushed aside in favor of the Playhouse's, and breathing life back into the historic building was crucial in creating brand awareness out in the region. Luckily, the building's Art Deco facade remains intact, and creates a memorable impact on the downtown landscape. The new visual identity treatment utilizes the typography of the Chief's existing marquee, a vintage piece that remains as visually powerful and distinctive now as it did when it was built. The project also included a new web presence for the Chief, that would ultimately swallow the existing website of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Care was taken to ensure the site was well-organized, clear, and easy to navigate, with prominent calls to action for purchases and donations. Photographs of performances were heavily emphasized, as well as custom photography of the building and region.
Together, these elements combine to present a story to the public of romance, warm summer nights, and live entertainment. They offer a promise of nightlife, something relatively absent in this college town aside from campus bars and lake sports. And they provide a central repository for the various theater troupes, musical acts, and entertainers who take turns to occupy the historic Chief Theater, giving them more visibility and allowing them to become a part of a community.
“Evensen Creative was brought on board to breathe new life into the Chief, and we love the end result.” —Janet Brademan, business manager