When I walked down our main street 30 years ago, Nelson wasn’t as cool as it is now. It wasn’t the town everyone wanted to live in, from transients to dot-com millionaires.
Nelson didn’t yet roast its own coffee or brew its own beer. Its artists hung work in alleyways long before there were galleries. You might hear music on Baker Street, a single voice reaching for the top of Elephant Mountain; now, there’s a street musician on every corner.
Nelson folks wanted their own radio station, so we started one. We wanted an art school, so we started that too. When the mill closed, Nelson pried off slapped-on 1950s facades and made a new future by celebrating the past.
Nelson is angsty and tooth-gnashy and some days it feels like we can’t do one thing without controversy. But that’s the thing about Nelson — everyone cares.
Just one year ago a group came together to save our 1936 movie theatre when it looked like it might be gone forever. We agreed on this: a movie theatre is for everyone. It’s good for kids and teens and families and seniors. A movie is a first date, a good laugh, a safe night out, a shared experience. It’s good for the economy, and it’s good for the community. A movie theatre is worth saving.
That ad hoc group became The Nelson Civic Theatre Society. The road was at times angsty and tooth-gnashy, but fundamentally, everybody cared. By October, we had more than 1,200 members, and the keys.
The theatre had been dark for three years, half-gutted and permeated with the sad smell of stale popcorn. The old 35mm projector might have been run by hamsters; the mono speaker had an underwater sound quality. The seats lay in dusty stacks on the old stage.
We cleaned up. At an open house, people sponsored seats, then installed them. We tweaked until picture and sound were tolerable, then packed the house with folks in gowns and tuxes and the occasional wetsuit for the James Bond movie Skyfall. Which is when we asked: how much do you really want a theatre?
Nelson is fundraising central: a house fire, a sick child, or Guatemalan refugees all open wallets. Need a CT scanner to avoid long waits and mountain roads? Roll out the campaign. It’s not that other towns don’t do this stuff. It’s just that there are 10,000 people in Nelson, a million things to save or support or build. And somehow, we do.
After this year there will be no more print films made. For the Nelson Civic Theatre, it was go digital, or go home. A lot of independent theatres across Canada were opting for the latter, but by now there were 1,800 members and 400 volunteers — who weren’t about to go home.
Two months. $150,000. Digital movies by summer. 10,000 people in a mountain town. Could we do it? You could hear the machine click into gear; Nelson was ready to roll.
Last Wednesday night we held a press conference on the steps of the Nelson Civic Theatre. Everyone wanted to know: did we make it? $150K is no chump change.
The final tally: $181,425.
Safe to say, we’ll have a digital movie summer. Sure, there’s a ways to go before this project is complete — and we’ll get there. For now, raise a glass, butter your popcorn, and sit back as the house lights dim, and the screen comes to life.
We’ve got it all in Nelson. We’ve got a community for whom a gauntlet thrown is an opportunity to make perfect just a little bit better. We’ve got friends working together, and in the process, making more friends. We’ve got a tremendous amount of goodwill.
And all around us: mountains, lake, and a sky with a curious propensity for double rainbows.
Anne DeGrace is the president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society. This column was originally sent as a thank you distributed to 1,800 NCTS members in an e-newsletter. Find out more about NCTS at civictheatre.ca