News Column

Orpheum brings movies back to Chatham

July 27, 2013

YellowBrix

July 27--CHATHAM -- More than 26 years since the last movie was shown at the Chatham Theater, the doors opened Friday evening and crowds were finally able to enjoy the first performance at the reborn Chatham Orpheum Theater.

Ginny Hamblet of Chatham said she's "been looking for movies back on Main Street" for a long time. And with every seat taken for the first showing of the Steve Carell film "The Way Way Back," it's evident that she's not the only one.

Even in the rain, a line of people reached outside the theater and down Chatham's Main Street. Tickets sold out earlier in the day and moviegoers showed up early to order a beer, wine or popcorn to take into the theater.

Waiters, bartenders and concession stand workers stood just inside the door, waiting for their first official customers. When guests were finally invited in, many rushed to find a seat in the screening theater, while others headed straight to the bar, concession stand or the lobby's pub tables and chairs.

As showtime approached, Orpheum president Naomi Turner appeared in front of the main stage's bright red curtain with not only a whoop in celebration but also a full cartwheel to express her joy at the theater's opening.

"I feel like I'm having a really big party and all my best friends are here," Turner said. "Here's to a long and wonderful life at the Chatham Orpheum Theater."

The theater, which has been under construction since January, didn't make its comeback overnight. While Turner said it would have been easier and cheaper to "knock down the entire structure and start from scratch," she said it was much more important to preserve the 97-year-old structure.

The outside of the theater looks very much like it did at its initial opening in 1915, and along with a fresh coat of paint and a new sign, the theater boasts its original facade. But with major upgrades to the theater's interior and screening theaters, the rest of the theater's amenities are as modern as it gets.

The building's lower level holds the patisserie Vers, which will open in the coming weeks, and will offer a special menu for moviegoers to enjoy while watching a film.

Both the 157-seat main theater, which will feature first-run films, and the second 35-seat theater, which will show documentaries and independent productions, have been installed with digital cinema equipment capable of showing 3-D movies.

Through Sunday, the theater is showing "The Way Way Back" at 6 and 9 p.m. It will begin screening "Jaws" when work on the second theater is finished next week.

Both theaters have been enhanced acoustically, with fabric panels with layers of insulation to absorb sound.

But don't look for a projectionist; there are two touchscreen control panels that remotely start movies "with just the touch of a button," said Geoffrey Bassett, the Orpheum's assistant manager.

"We will run the projector systems so we can stop, start the movie, and control the lighting through touch panels that we have access to," Bassett said. "We can also enter and schedule show times from these panels. Unlike film where you had to be in the exact same room to play the movie, with the digital equipment we don't need a projector room or a projectionist -- we can do it ourselves.

"With our two Barco projectors, we will not need to upgrade for the next 10 years at least," he said. "We wanted to be as up-to-date with what the industry is moving towards, and there will always be new technology, but these industry standards should not change for several years."

With the complete makeover of the theater's interior, it's hard to believe that just 20 months ago the theater was a CVS pharmacy.

When CVS relocated in November 2011, the Orpheum Theater Project sprang up with a mission to bring films back to the original theater.

After forming a board of trustees and obtaining nonprofit status, the group has managed to raise $3.4 million in private donations and grants and is $500,000 short of a new goal to help fund an endowment.

Turner said the resurrection of the Orpheum never could have happened without the people of Chatham.

"The whole town has wanted this theater back and, when I saw in 2011 that CVS would move -- and the multiplex in Harwich had closed -- it was the perfect time to go ahead and bring the Orpheum back. And that's exactly what we did."

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

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