2020 was to be a successful year for the Newtown Theater. Staff had worked to transform the theater from a location that showed movies to one that offered comedy shows and live concerts. After seeing success with new forms of entertainment the previous year, everyone expected even more growth.
Instead, just months after the start of the new year, a global pandemic forced Newtown Theater director Carol Wasielewski to close the doors to the public. All theater staff have been laid off and all plans for 2020 have been put on hold.
“As I was blocking all the way up and down, it was a sad experience as I knew it would be for awhile. We had guests emailing us asking, ‘What’s going to happen? ? ”I didn’t know when I was going to be able to come back and I think no one thought it was going to be a year, said Wasielewski, who locked the doors of the theater just a year after being appointed director.
However, the Newtown Theater was able to withstand the financial hardships caused by the pandemic, and last month it reopened with a comedy show, its first live event in over a year. While CDC guidelines only allowed the theater to open at 25% capacity, Wasielewski was delighted to welcome guests again.
“The theater is so ingrained in this community that everyone has been eagerly awaiting its opening to any type of ability. Everyone was looking forward to the opening of the theater, not necessarily the entertainment content. They just wanted to finally see those doors open, ”Wasielewski said.
Now the theater is looking to its future, launching sweeping renovation plans and an “Adopt-a-Seat” fundraiser to support it.
Secret to saving money
While the pandemic has caused many live entertainment venues and theaters to shut down permanently, staff at the Newtown Theater attribute their ability to reopen to finding ways to contain spending.
“We are strangely lucky. There is no mortgage on this building. There is no rent, but we turned the heat down to the max and did everything we could to save money. I know there are other facilities in very different situations, ”said Andy Smith, who works for Cabin Communications, the company that runs the theater.
The low operating costs of the theater during its closure are due to its long history dating back to 1831. The Newtown Theater has strong community roots, as it was originally built as a free meeting room for the public. By the 1850s, it was regularly used by notable artists and orators such as the American abolitionist Fredrick Douglass.
Later, the building was rebuilt, and in 1906 it screened its first film, making it the oldest working cinema in the country. Much of the theater contains historic building pieces such as a floor from the 1880s and seats from 1935.
Today the theater is located in the borough of Newtown and has expanded to include the provision of comedy shows, concerts, plays and musicals, while also being available for rent on a private basis. . Although the Newtown Theater does not have a cinema marquee, its historic interior with 300 seats provides guests with a unique experience.
“Most people think of us as a movie theater, but we’re definitely heading for a full performance center. We plan to add many more concerts in 2022, ”said Smith.
The theater also hopes to carry out internal renovations with the donation money to help it stay modernized. According to Smith, the first phase of the renovation costs almost $ 600,000.
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Plans call for a new hardwood floor, vintage-style seating on the first floor, a new coat of paint inside the building, the addition of a wheelchair lift in front of the theater, a full washroom accessible on the first floor and the addition of a sprinkler system in the auditorium.
“The theater has not been renovated or touched for over 50 years. There are few things more historic in Bucks County than this theater. It’s worth saving, not just because it’s historic, but because it’s Newtown’s entertainment hub, ”Smith said.
Staff and board members noted that exterior obstacles have always been a part of Newtown Theater history, noting that it survived both World Wars, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and the Great Depression. the invention of television.
“The theater is part of the community and people are really trying to support. It has survived over the years and I think it will survive another 150 years, really, ”said Dave Callahan, Newtown Theater board member.
This summer, the Newtown Theater plans to offer a limited list of events, including concerts, other comedy shows and screenings of cult classic films as they prepare for the renovations. While 2020 did not go as planned for the Newtown Theater, the staff were not deterred and they envision a prosperous future.
“I don’t know how long it will take to rebuild,” Smith said. “I think nobody knows that. I think as long as we continue to adapt and put on things that people want to see, we’ll be here to stay. People always want to come together. They want to have a common experience and this is what we are proposing. “