On Canada Day 2012

COLUMN: From empty box to big screen

When I stood in the middle of the big, dusty, empty box that was the Civic Theatre in the summer of 2012, I could feel it:

When I stood in the middle of the big, dusty, empty box that was the Civic Theatre in the summer of 2012, I could feel it: the first dates, the kid-filled matinees and the accumulation of shared cinema experience over 75 years.

People came for Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart. They came for Sylvester Stallone and Scarlett Johansson. They came for the magic of film and the embrace of community.

I felt I was standing at the midpoint of a rich history and a promising future. I could imagine that empty box full of people, laughing or crying together over the storylines of films yet to be made.

We were a spanking new society with a deadline to gain council’s confidence that we could bring the cinema back — and to prove that Nelson wanted it back.

A 4,000-signature survey was not enough. We needed to sell memberships — a lot of them. And so an army of volunteers went out, sitting at booths and spreading the word.

We asked people to take a leap of faith: to imagine that empty box as we did. There were no guarantees; the perks of membership we’d work out later. Trust us, we said.

Lynn Adams was among the first to join.

“I was impressed that a group of local people was so interested,” she said, adding that the theatre was an important element of the community.

“A theatre is for young people, old people, everyone.”

Lucinda Taylor also jumped on board, buying her membership and then manning the membership booth.

“It’s important to have a theatre for everyone, but for kids and teens especially,” said Lucinda, who has a teenaged daughter.

“We wanted to do anything we could towards its success.”

Mark Nykanen, another leap-of-faither, is happy with how things have turned out.

“The versatility is just so impressive,” he says. He loved Ross Steed’s collaborative video and the sense of community he felt. Hearing Ruth Moody play, “I can’t remember when I had such comfortable seating at a concert.”

As for that leap of faith, “we had little doubt that the people who were behind it were capable of pulling it off.”

I think all of us had at least one dead-of-night moment of doubt in those early days. It was a daunting project after all. But as support grew, so did our confidence, and our sense of responsibility. No way could we let all those people down.

We’d hoped for 500 members by that October 15 deadline, a sizeable show of support, we felt. We reached 1,200. That’s no small leap of faith.

Now, we are 2,400 members strong — and we need every one of you. It’s about support, and proving to funders and others that the community wants this. It’s important, because there’s still a way to go to reach our three-theatre goal.

Everyone who joined in those early days is now up for renewal, one year after the big screen lit up to show films regularly. And new members are always welcome.

Lorraine McGregor just joined. She has a fondness for film, and even ran the projector at the Ymir Community Hall in the 1950s. As a teenager, coming to Nelson for movies was a big deal, swooning to Love Me Tender with a few best girlfriends.

“I’ve always loved movies, but not at home by myself. I want to be a part of this,” she said, hoping to get involved as a volunteer.

Whether renewing or joining for the first time, it’s about building something together: with leaps of faith, fond memories, and future vision. We’re still drawing for weekly prizes until mid July, in addition to the perks of membership (yes, perks!), which include a break at the box office, free monthly member movie Mondays, a vote at the AGM, and a chance to be a part of something great.

Join or renew your membership before film showings, at the booths around town, or online atcivictheatre.ca, where you can also find out about what’s coming up at your theatre.


— Anne DeGrace is the past president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society, which is working to develop a multi-venue community space for movies, live performance, and more. To find out more go to civictheatre.ca.

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