ASHLAND, Va. -- When the crowds disappear and entertainment stops cold the silence inside Ashland Theatre can be deafening.
“It’s just making us really sad to have the doors closed again," General Manager Cathy Buckenmaier said. “We definitely have our moments of frustration looking at an empty building all day long.”
COVID-19 pulled the plug on all events at the historic venue, from movies and concerts to comedy acts.
“It’s hard to overstate what this theatre means to this particular community," she said.
The most exciting activity these long days of lockdown is watching corn pop.
“Oh, it was so sad. It was so sad to close the doors," Communications Manager Maggie Latimer said. “Back in the day this was the place to go. The place to gather.”
This is not the first time the 1948 gem was shuttered. For nearly 20 years, the outdated theatre on England Street was dark. But a recent multi-million dollar renovation revived the theatre.
“When we opened this place we wanted it to be a welcoming place and wanted it to fit the feel of the town," Lasiter said.
When it reopened in December 2018, the line to get into the Ashland Theatre stretched down the block.
A new chapter was dawning at the Art Deco gem. That is until coronavirus came calling 15 months later. It was worse than any featured horror flick.
“We’re a single-screen theatre. We can only show one movie at a time," Buckenmaier said. “Obviously with everything closed, we can’t operate at all.”
Now the General Manager and her team are devising new ways to generate income for the non-profit.
The staff is filling seats virtually, offering moviegoers a chance to stream films from the theatre's library right at home. You can also rent the marquee displaying your own personal message for all to see.
“Even if we’re allowed to open with a ten or 20-person restriction, we will do whatever it takes to get these doors back open to the community again," Buckenmaier said.
Getting creative during these troubling times is the key to reel success.
“I don’t think you find another theatre quite like this in the whole world," Latimer said. “We have high hopes, you know? We have high hopes because this town and its people have always backed us.”
Projectionist Lamar Person can't wait to entertain the masses from his perch.
“It excites me every time. I try to put my heart and soul into it," Person said. “We’re ready to go. Everyone is ready. The community is ready to go. I strongly believe that.”
Predictions of the demise of the massive multi-plex and neighborhood moviehouses nationwide have been well-documented in recent years. But not even a world-wide pandemic can dampen the spirits.
Till showtime and when the screen flickers to life again caretakers at Ashland Theatre will keep the Neon burning. As a sign of brighter days ahead in the Center of the Universe.
“We cannot wait to get people back in this building," Buckenmaier said. "The more stories we hear from the community and the public the more important it becomes to continue having these doors open and being here for Ashland.”
In addition to movies and concerts, Ashland Theatre can also serve as a wedding chapel. One couple plans to tie the knot in October.
Click here for information on how to rent the marquee or stream movies at home.
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