The World Theatre recliners

Seventy luxury recliners and a food service area will replace the 180 seats that were removed from the balcony of The World Theatre last weekend and given to anyone who wanted them on Saturday.

KEARNEY — They came, they loaded up, and The World Theatre declared victory.

“All of the seats are gone,” floor manager Steve Jensen said Sunday evening about the souvenir seekers who took home 50-year-old seats that were removed last week to make way for the renovation of The World’s balcony.

The theater offered the old seats free to all comers Saturday afternoon.

The vintage Vaudeville theater’s Memories of the World Balcony or Bust campaign has raised $561,000 — enough to update the balcony with 70 luxury recliners and a food service area. Additionally, The World Theatre Board has decided to replace and restore the stage and backstage areas to accommodate live performances. They also will upgrade the HVAC system to improve heating and cooling.

Central Contracting of Kearney last week removed all of the seats from the balcony and erected a plastic barrier to prevent construction dust from drifting down to the main level of the theater.

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In addition to helping souvenir seekers load their vintage theater seats, volunteers on Saturday carted away debris and other material so the stage and backstage renovations can begin.

Jon Bokenkamp, creative director for The World, said last week the Balcony or Bust campaign fell about $25,000 short of its $586,000 goal. That means plans to enlarge the lobby to include a replica of the 1940s Gerber’s Sweets Shop will be on hold until more funds are raised.

Jensen said it was a busy weekend at The World with all of the preconstruction activity. In addition, Friday, Saturday and Sunday showings of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, each were sellouts.

“It was a good weekend and Monday night we have Big Band.”

January’s big band performance will be the Flatwater Jazz Orchestra.

The 16-piece band will perform three sets today, and the event is free. Donations will be split between the band and The World’s balcony campaign.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show.

Donations to the balcony campaign may be made payable to and sent to: The World Theatre Foundation, 2318 Central Ave., Kearney, NE 68847. Supporters also may go online to donate at www.theworldtheatre.org.