Communities work together to bring modern entertainment to rural area
by Katelyn Reynolds
Tribune's Star Theater and Sharon Springs' Strand Theater recently purchased new digital movie systems with screens, sound systems, and 3-D capabilities. On the brink of shutting down because of dilapidated equipment, these two movie theaters in rural Western Kansas survived only because of a collaborated community effort.
"The new system was required for us to keep getting new movies. We had an old reel that used 35mm film, and prints were getting harder and harder to find, Catherine Wright, Star Theater Manager said, "I would have given us maybe another year and we would have had to shut down because we wouldn't be able to get movies."
The theaters' new entertainment systems didn't come easy. The small communities of Tribune and Sharon Springs were each looking at approximately $80,000 worth of funds to raise in order to keep their movie theaters alive.
"When we first realized we had to have a new screen and system, we sat down as a board and discussed if it would even be possible. It was a lot of money to raise in a short period of time." Wright said.
Wright said the board was very positive and decided to try its best to raise the money. They brainstormed different ways to raise money and started planning.
According to Wright, the Theater Board began their fundraising by inviting Christian music group, Eternity Focus, to come and perform. The band came and performed at the school in Tribune in April of 2011. The theater got to keep a percentage of the ticket sales to go toward the new digital system.
After the music group, the Theater Board decided to get even more creative with their fundraising effort and do a "Jail 'N Bail." For a full day, anyone could pay $25 to have someone else arrested. The person who was arrested had to go to court and could either pay $50 to avoid going to jail, or they had to go to jail and call someone to bail them out.
Wright had seen this type of fundraiser done in Oklahoma where she is from, and the rest of the board thought it would be a neat way to get the community involved with the fundraising. According to Wright, the Jail 'N Bail raised about $1200.
"Our fundraisers did pretty well, but we knew we still had a long ways to go; $80,000 is a lot of money for a small community to raise." Wright said.
Christy Hopkins, Greeley County Community Development director and Theater Board member, played a role in helping the community find the rest of the money for the new system.
According to Hopkins, the Kansas Department of Commerce awards tax credits to non-profit organizations across the state each year to help raise funds for expenses.
"We decided to apply for the tax credit grant along with the Wallace County cinema, Strand Theater, in Sharon Springs because they award the tax credits based upon population, so we figured we would have a better chance if we worked together." Hopkins said.
After applying for the tax credits, the communities waited to find out if they would qualify and save their theaters, or they would have to chance losing their unique entertainment venues.
"There was a lot of stress. We weren't sure how we were going to raise $80,000 in about a year's time. We applied for the tax credits and we qualified. Thanks to the tax credits, we were able to save our theater." Wright said.
According to Hopkins, they were very blessed and received one out of only 22 tax credit grants awarded in the state. There were 74 applicants for the tax credits, and the combined application of Wallace and Greeley County was one of them. The Theaters in Sharon Springs and Tribune had a total of $159,835.00 that could be raised through selling the tax credits.
Hopkins said the theaters had 18 months to raise the money, but they were able to utilize the tax credits in just six months, which put them way ahead of schedule.
"The community really showed their support right away. The Theater Board here [Greeley County] and in Wallace County were highly involved and the tax credits were a neat way for the two communities to work together," Hopkins said.
The tax credits could be bought by individuals or businesses, and 70% of the amount purchased could be directly taken off of state income taxes, while the remaining 30% could be deducted as a 501c3 non-profit donation.
According to Hopkins, a lot of businesses and individuals from the communities took part in purchasing tax credits to help raise the money for the theaters.
"It was just neat that this program let people of different means help. A lot of people were able to help make this happen. Some people gave a minimum of $250 for tax credits, while others bought all the way up to $20,000. Even people that don't live in the area got involved and wanted to help out our cause," Hopkins said.
The two theaters raised their money ahead of schedule and were able to get their new equipment in the Spring. Tribune's Star Theater received their new screen, projector, and sound system during the week of March 5th, 2012.
"We were really excited to get the new system in and show everyone what a great thing we were able to bring to such a small town," Wright said.
The first movie that played on the new digital system was Journey II. The Star Theater showed the movie for free as a thank-you to the community for all of the support. On the opening weekend, they had 90 people come to the show. The Star Theater seats 119.
According to Wright, the attendance continues to increase since they've gotten the new technology. Wright said that they are regularly seeing 20-25 more customers every weekend.
In addition to the increased attendance, Wright said that the customers are very pleased with the system and comment on the quality frequently.
"We've had lots of people say they don't need to go to a bigger city cinema because they are getting the same quality of entertainment right here in Tribune," Wright said.
Hopkins said that several families have even commented that they haven't missed a weekend yet since the new screen came.
The quality of entertainment isn't the only benefit of the new system. According to Wright, they can now get movies just three weeks after they come out, as opposed to the old 35mm system where they waited months to get the films, and by that time they were almost out as DVD's.
According to Wright the process of showing a movie has definitely changed and is more technology based than manual labor.
"We used to get the movie in actual film roles and had to thread the film through the projector and feed it into the different platters. We had to start and focus the projector manually and the projectionists had to be physically be there to start and stop the film correctly. If something misfed during the showing of the film, we would have to pause and try to fix it during the movie. It took two hours to feed a film through to show it and two hours to take it out again," Wright said, "Now it takes one hour total and the projector can be set on a timer to turn itself on and off and begin the movie."
The Star Theater has been a community project since 2010 and will now continue to play for years to come.
"The transition to digital is more than technology, it's a step to insuring that quality entertainment will always be available in our community. It's part of having that vibrant community that we strive for," Hopkins said.
Show times at the Tribune Star Theater are at 7 p.m. MST Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more movie information, contact Catherine Wright, manager, at (620) 376-4612.