News Column

Construction begins on cinema

August 21, 2014

By Jeff Bahr, American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

Aug. 21--If you enjoy popcorn and pop at movies, this is blockbuster news.

Those movie theater staples will be allowed in Aberdeen Community Theatre's new digital movie theater, which is under construction.

Popcorn and pop are not allowed in the main 450-seat auditorium at the Capitol Theatre, where movies are shown during a portion of the year. But the new digital theater is being built so that cleaning won't be a chore. The seats will be connected to the risers, which will make sweeping comparatively easy, said ACT artistic and managing director Jim Walker. You could describe them as sweeping changes.

The addition of the digital theater will have two other benefits that don't involve refreshments -- more film and more live theater.

Right now, the ACT film season runs December through March. The new theater will allow ACT to offer films year-round.

Freeing up the main theater December through March will give ACT the chance to offer more live theater programming.

"This will make the facility about as utilized as it possibly can be, which would be a great thing," Walker said.

The films shown December through March are a project of Capitol Cinema, a subsidiary of ACT.

The digital theater will be in a space formerly used by J.C. Penney. Films will be projected onto a screen that is parallel to Main Street. The audience will be seated in inclined, stadium-style seats.

Walker is raising $100,000 in financial commitments. If things go well, it's possible the digital theater could be open by the end of the year.

The building of the digital cinema is the third and final phase of a Capitol Theater construction plan that began in the 1990s.

About five years ago, the cost of the project was estimated to be about $398,000. Costs have risen since then.

Financial commitments may be made over a three-year period. Because Walker has secured financing, it's not necessary to have the actual cash in hand for construction to continue, he said.

Films will still be shown in the main theater during special events, such as the South Dakota Film Festival and the Fischgaard Short Film Project.

Walker said that slightly more than 90 seats is the perfect size for the theater. He can basically count on one hand the number of times that more than 90 seats have been needed in the main theater for a movie.

Filmgoers will also be more comfortable, he said. The main theater was designed to be properly heated when it's two-thirds full, he said. It's extremely difficult to make that space comfortable for "two handfuls of people," Walker said.

The new space is designed to handle live theater as well as film. Walker expects it to be used as a black box theater occasionally.

When it is built, though, it will be the only true black box theater in Aberdeen. Plans for such a structure at the Johnson Fine Arts Center are on hold.

Because of work on the Johnson Fine Arts Center, most Northern State University theater productions will be staged at the Capitol over the next two school years.

The first NSU show of the year, October's "On the Verge," will be presented in Northern's Williams Library.

The next three, though, will be at the Capitol, beginning with "White Christmas" in November. That will be a co-production of Northern and ACT. Another co-production will be the musical "Working" in February.

The final show of the school year, "A Flea in Her Ear," will be entirely a Northern production.

It's possible that NSU may use the Capitol's black box in the fall of 2015, said Northern theater director Daniel Yurgaitis.

Walker and Yurgaitis say the two theater groups will work together well. ACT's origins can be traced to summer productions at JFAC, Walker noted.

"I've worked with Jim for the last 14 years, so it's not like it's going to be a big deal," Yurgaitis said.


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Source: Aberdeen American News (SD)

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