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In digital age, future of Rowland Theatre at risk
Saturday, May 4, 2013
By Tyler Kolesar Staff Writer
PHILIPSBURG - Since 1917, the Rowland Theatre has been a pillar in downtown Philipsburg. While other businesses have come and gone, the Rowland still stands. However, due to costs of a mandatory digital upgrade, the theater may have to shut its doors if enough money cannot be raised.
In 1889, there was a different building at the theater site: the Pierce Opera House. Kevin Conklin, who is a volunteer at the Rowland, said a fire on New Year's Eve in 1910 destroyed the building. The site was vacant until 1916, when Charles Rowland purchased the site with the hopes of building something for the community. After much work, the Rowland Theatre opened its doors June 4, 1917. Its first movie was called "Within The Law."
On Sept. 19, 1917, "The Garden of Allah" became the first live production the theater hosted.
Conklin said the theater was built specifically for film and live productions. Films shown at the theater were silent films until 1931, when a mono sound system was installed. This sound system lasted until 1995, when the theater upgraded to Dolby Surround Sound, which it still has today.
The digital conversion is being forced upon all theaters by major movie companies and has been in the works for some time now. While major movie theater outlets can afford the changes, it's the "little guys" that are struggling with coming up with funding for the project. Conklin said there's not a concrete date when the conversion will become official, but estimates it could happen by the end of the year.
Conklin said the new digital system would have its perks. For one, the old projectors with film will be a thing of the past. Gone would be the Alpha Platter System the theater currently uses to switch between movies, as well as the current projector. It would be replaced by a more user-friendly method. Rather than putting numerous reels together to construct the film, hard drives would be shipped for theaters to download. Many times you'll see cracks and creases in the film on screen. These flaws wouldn't exist in digital.
For the movie companies, going digital would be immensely cheaper. Conklin said prints currently cost about $1,500 each. Companies going digital would then be buying hard drives that could cost approximately $100.
There is, however, one major flaw to the digital upgrade: the cost. Conklin said in order to upgrade the theater, they will need approximately $75,000. This includes a company coming in and installing the system, which takes about three days.
The options for the theater are simple: raise the money or close its doors. Closing definitely isn't the option that the more than 25 employees and volunteers want to hear, but it's a possibility without proper funding. Conklin said many people don't realize the amount of people actually involved, stating there's many who do a lot of "behind the scenes" work for the theater.
Conklin said, "Donations are always appreciated" and those wanting to donate to the theater can do so by mailing to 127 N. Front St., Philipsburg, PA 16866. A Pay-Pal account in its name has also been opened.
Conklin said one advantage they have to other local theaters is it's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
"Any donations we get are tax deductible," said Conklin.
Another obvious way of helping keep the theater in business is attending the movies, as every little bit can help. The theater will continue to hold nightly movies at 7 p.m., with the occasional Sunday matinee for films geared toward children. Smaller fundraisers such as selling Sheetz booklets are also ongoing, and Conklin said they've discussed the possibility of posting on the website Kickstarter (a platform that allows people to fund various creative projects).
A project previously started last year was the marquee project. Conklin said they had some structural problems with the marquee.
"After exploring (options), we removed three layers of marquees," said Conklin. "What's out there now is what's left of the original one."
Conklin said the original marquee from 1917 was all glass with copper framework.
"We're going to try to replicate it," said Conklin, who hopes if they get enough money for the digital conversion they can also help fund a new marquee.
Conklin said he hopes they can come up with the funds to keep open because of something happening in 2017. In four years, the Rowland would be having its 100th anniversary.
"Hopefully we'll be around for that," said an optimistic Conklin. "Hopefully that will be a big event. I'm planning on it."
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