An unassuming storefront in a small Nebraska town flips down to become a 100-seat theatre, which artist Matthew Mazzotta installed to reinvigorate the neglected main street.

The Storefront Theater provides the town of Lyons with an open-air event space, which can be hidden away and disguised at part of the streetscape when not in use.

Storefront Theater by Matthew Mazzotta

Hydraulic cylinders on either side push down the awning and false frontage over the sidewalk, revealing stepped seats with room for 100 spectators. A screen can be wheeled in front by a tractor, then driven away again when necessary.

“Both the seats and the screen retract and disappear when not in use, giving the impression that there is nothing unusual in this town, leaving only word-of-mouth accounts for inquiring visitors,” said Mazzotta, a fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

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Storefront Theater by Matthew Mazzotta

The aim of the project is to help bring life back to downtown Lyons, which has a population of 851. Like many other small towns in the US, its main street has suffered decline as independent stores and services fell victim to cheaper chain retailers.

Mazzotta, known for his large-scale kinetic installations, received a grant from Artplace America to work in Lyons and held talks with residents to decide how best to serve their needs.

Storefront Theater by Matthew Mazzotta

“During these discussions, many community members reveal fond memories of a once-thriving downtown and express a strong desire to see downtown become the centre of community life once again,” the artist said.

Locals donated their money and volunteered their time to construct the theatre. They also helped a local filmmaker create a documentary that traced the area’s history, which was screened on Storefront Theater’s opening night.

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Storefront Theater by Matthew Mazzotta

Since the venue was installed, it has also hosted events including movie screenings, video-game nights and music concerts.

“The new energy that the venue has brought to Main Street has also inspired another Lyons native to purchase the empty building right next to the theatre, and turn into an art gallery that had its first show in December and is booked with a different show for the next six months,” Mazzotta said.

Storefront Theater by Matthew Mazzotta

The artist has previously worked on similar social initiatives in the US. In 2013, he built a house-shaped structure that folded open to provide seating for an open-air performance space.

More recently, Mazzotta created a shed-like pavilion in Missouri where an artificial cloud rains onto the roof whenever someone sits inside.


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