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Colfax Theater

Zach Johnson, left, and Cathie Marking, both board members for the Schuyler Enrichment Foundation, on Nov. 8 pose for a photo inside the Colfax Theater. 

Those running The Colfax Theater are hoping a decision to expand what plays at the cinema helps attract more people, including those from David City other Butler County communities.

The Schuyler Enrichment Foundation, which oversees the theater’s operations, elected for the first time to play an R-rated movie there. Board members decided to bring the 2018 supernatural horror film “The Nun” to town the weekend before Halloween because of several requests, and it paid off in a major way. Tickets sold like hot cakes for the shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and concessions were as busy as ever.

“That was an amazing weekend for us. ‘The Nun’ did very well,” board member Zach Johnson said. “A normal good weekend for us is 20-30 people, so to get 120 people over the course of the weekend is astronomically well. We were all ecstatic … we were all just astounded and very pleased to get the positive feedback from the community we did.”

The key for the theater was having a title that attracted teenagers, or as Johnson called them, “the usual (group) that drives to Columbus to see what they want.”

Board members aren’t naïve. As charming and quaint as the historic downtown Schuyler theater can be, it’s one screen and its limited number of volunteers and managers can hinder its success when compared to bigger-sized cinemas in nearby Columbus and Fremont. Those theaters have the benefit of being able to play numerous titles at once and offer various showtimes each day.

“High school age is the hardest to get to our theater,” fellow board member Cathie Marking said.

Added Johnson: “The fact that we were able to get younger kids in here was just awesome.”

That’s why a while back the board voted in favor of broadening the types of movies it screens at the theater. It wants to make it more appealing to teens and adults – when it makes sense, Johnson stressed.

“Sometimes you just run out of good kids’ movies to show. There are only so many of them that are out,” Johnson said. “There has got to be some give and take. It’s not going to be an every month thing that we show R-rated movies. It’s going to be when one comes along that we feel would go over well with the community of Schuyler and those around us.”

They put that to the test again last weekend by playing the critically-acclaimed “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 American musical romantic drama directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Cooper and singer Lady Gaga. A remake of the 1937 film of the same name, the film tells the story of a hard-drinking musician (Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young singer (Gaga).

Johnson estimated the theater had about 50 people over the course of the weekend.

"That's good for us," he said. "It’s one of the movies we got a lot of questions about. People kept asking, ‘are you going to be getting that movie?’” Johnson said. “We got a lot of requests for it.”

It just so happened that two R-rated titles that made sense for the local cinema came out around the same time, but it won’t be a regular occurrence, the two board members assured. The two previous weeks, the theater played the PG “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” and PG-13 “Venom.” In the next two weeks, the theater will screen the PG-13 “Indivisible” and PG-rated “The Nutcracker and The Four Realms.”

The board has been proactive in promoting what titles will be playing in Schuyler. Johnson said they made adults aware of “The Nun” in the junior high school’s newsletter, asking parents to send their child with a permission note if they were going to allow them to see the movie but not yet of recommended age (R, or Restricted, films are recommended for those 17 and up by the Motion Picture Association of America). In some cases, he noted, children got their parents on the phone to give permission or parents bought the tickets for their children at the theater.

“It’s ultimately the parents’ decision. It’s their choice to deem what they want their family to see and what they don’t want them to see,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the board continues to look for more volunteers and managers to help keep the theater running. It has been a struggle, Johnson and Marking noted, to have people willing help run the theater for just its three screenings – 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

“It’s tough to find volunteers,” Johnson said. “Our managers are paid, but it’s still tough because we need ticket sellers and people in concessions. It does not mean you have to work every weekend – you could choose which shifts you want to take or not take.”

What is helpful is the support of area schools and businesses. Schuyler Elementary sends a different class of students to the theater to screen a Friday morning movie throughout the school year when there is a movie district officials believe kids will enjoy.

Some local businesses have gotten into sponsoring movies, which results in discounts for the community. On those days, tickets, which are $5 for kids and $6 for adults, are only $3 for everyone.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Marking said.

It even benefits the board. Not only does the theater get a nice crowd on those weekends, but the sponsorship also helps with the expense that comes with getting a certain movie title. Johnson said it typically costs a couple hundred dollars to get just one movie to Schuyler.

Those interested in volunteering or wanting movie updates can visit schuylercolfaxtheater.com. The theater is at 314 E. 11th St.

Ultimately, board members are hoping to have the theater staffed and be able to offer a variety of titles that appeal to the diverse population that makes Schuyler.

“We don’t want to see the theater close,” Marking said.

Johnson said the theater may not have as many screens as patrons will find in bigger cities, however, it offers loads of nostalgia.

"That building (the theater) has been around for decades. It has been remodeled and we try very hard to keep it clean," he said, noting admission is cheaper than at many other cinemas. "We try to attract people from all over the place ... We're trying to attract people who maybe want that small-town atmosphere ..."

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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