The front page of the January 1 edition of the Nelson Star.

Newsmaker of the year: Nelson Civic Theatre Society

For reopening the city’s movie house against all odds, the Star has named the Nelson Civic Theatre Society its 2013 Newsmaker of the Year.

For reopening the city’s movie house against all odds, the Star has named the Nelson Civic Theatre Society its 2013 Newsmaker of the Year.

“It was a fantastic year,” project manager Roger Ley said this week. “The support from the community has been incredible. Just think where we were a year ago.”

In the 12 months since the society took possession of the building, it cleaned and painted the auditorium, installed new seats, screened the Civic’s first movie in 2½ years as well as the last 35 mm film, raised over $181,000 through a community challenge for a new digital projector and sound system, screened the first digital film, began operating five days a week, secured a couple of first-run hits, and hosted an annual general meeting that nearly 300 people attended.

But they won’t rest on their laurels: in 2014 the society will launch a couple more fundraising campaigns to add air conditioning and fulfill plans to add two more screens. The former will cost $150,000 and the latter about $1.5 million.

“We’ve got a big push in front of us,” Ley said. “But we don’t want to be the project that takes all of the fundraising dollars.”

One campaign will quietly target corporate donors, while the other is expected to launch in early spring so the air conditioning system can be installed by summer.

Ley says now that digital technology has been installed, the theatre’s potential is limited only by the community’s imagination.

“We’re starting to use the term cultural media centre. Now we’re getting inundated with rental requests and different ideas — somebody suggested a sonic therapy session.”

Ley says the seats, projector, and sound system give them the opportunity to do things besides just showing movies, including webinars and live shows.

However, film distributors’ rules limit what can be accomplished with a single screen. For instance, to get a big film like The Hobbit sequel means the theatre can’t be used for anything else during the week.

The three-screen model will allow them greater flexibility in scheduling screenings and other events, Ley says, as well as ensuring the society’s financial stability.

“As a cinema with three screens we’ll be able to bring in three times the revenue and that allows us to follow up on our social enterprise model by putting some of the profits back into the community to stimulate more art and culture.”

Even with a single screen, the theatre has done well, achieving up to 80 per cent occupancy when industry standards suggest you’re doing well with 25 per cent.

At the packed annual general meeting in the fall, Marilyn Mint took over as society president from Anne DeGrace. Mint says a moment at that meeting epitomized the whole effort.

“I think Anne said ‘Thank you all for coming. This is amazing.’ There were 300 people sitting there. Someone at the back said ‘You asked us to come, didn’t you?’”

Mint, who called 2013 a “learning year,” got involved in the society from the beginning “because I thought it was abysmal there was no cinema in Nelson. It grew from there and became an exciting community project.

“So many times we’ve been in the lobby working or holding a meeting and people walk by and put their thumbs up to say ‘Great job, guys.’ That has probably been the most rewarding aspect of the whole experience so far.”

Previous Nelson Star top newsmakers

2012: Mother Nature

2011: Nelson Search and Rescue

2010: Pastor Jim Reimer