John Whelan: Saturday Night At The Movies

 

“Saturday night at the movies

Who cares what picture you see

When you’re huggin’ with your baby

In the last row of the balcony?”

 

About six years ago, I wrote a series of three articles for this Chronicle column about Bill, the mythical time traveler. It is the only time I’ve attempted to create a series. In my articles, Bill had grown up in Chatham and left in 1964 after finishing college. In 2009, he was returning on vacation to his old home town 45 years later. If you remember, Bill was very excited to return and very nostalgic about Chatham. During the episodes, Bill’s plan was to drive from place to place that he had remembered so vividly from his youth. Just prior to leaving for his visit, Bill had told his friends that he could not wait to eat at the Christopher Ryder House and stay on for the revue in the Opera House. The Ryder House was to be his first big dinner on his first big night of vacation. The disappointment that the restaurant was closed was great, but since he still planned to go to so many of his other Chatham haunts, he wrote it off as just one of those things that happen over time. The next day he planned to get a roast beef sandwich on oatmeal bread from Peter Haven at Haven’s Meat Market in North Chatham. He remembered Peter as a great soccer player for Chatham High. Haven’s roast beef sandwiches were about the best sandwiches available in America. As you already know, there was no Haven’s Market, no Peter Haven and no sandwich for Bill. The changes and the disappointments just kept on coming. Chatham had changed a great deal in 45 years.

Nineteen-sixty-four had been a great year. Bill remembered lots of beach parties and lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon and his job at the Acme Laundry on Orleans Road working on the mangle drying and folding sheets and pillow cases. The Drifters had recorded “Saturday Night at the Movies” and it resonated with Bill. The Chatham Theater was just one more of his favorite Chatham spots that were gone. The Chatham Theater didn’t have a balcony, but Bill had enjoyed many nights “huggin’ with his baby” there. He didn’t need a balcony. He particularly remembered waiting in line for the 9:15 p.m. movie. The line stretched way down Main Street and you talked with all your friends coming out of the first show. Theodore Bearse in his blue suit and his watch fob would walk the length of the line searching for bad actors. A few kids had been banned from the theater and Mr. Bearse was always on the lookout. For Bill, the demise of the theater was a great loss.

Imagine Bill’s delight if he returned to Chatham today. His Chatham Theater is reborn as The Orpheum. The Orpheum, beautifully restored, is alive and cooking. The story of its rebirth is well known and I will not repeat it. But it is now celebrating its fifth anniversary with a very professional, glossy brochure. The brochure tells The Orpheum saga very well, and from it, I’ve come to a few observations about their success. First of all, Naomi Turner’s vision that a movie theater could prosper in Chatham was brilliant. The stars were aligned perfectly with the closing of the Regal Cinemas in East Harwich. It meant that there were no other movie theaters in the four-town area of Chatham, Orleans, Harwich and Brewster. The demographic trends on Cape Cod meant that more and more retired people were here and many of them were looking for an attractive entertainment option. The Orpheum had a chance, actually a good chance.

But by reading the brochure, I learned the success is due to several other important factors. Just being here and being available was not enough. From the beginning, there has been great leadership. Kim Doggett is the president of the board of trustees and he has been a skilled and inspired leader. His board is full of engaged and talented people and they have carefully adhered to the business plan. And they recognize the reality that ongoing success will always depend on fundraising, no matter how many tickets they sell, and they definitely sell a lot of tickets. The loss this year of Tim Roper, who had successfully managed the direct mail campaign, has made the task a little harder. The board is presently working on finding someone who can do the job. I feel confident they will find that person.

The day-to-day operation is strong. Kevin McLain is the executive director and he runs a very good ship. Kevin is friendly and enthusiastic and skilled. For most patrons, Kevin is the face of the Orpheum. He is very popular, and particularly so with the steady patrons of the theater. The choice of Kevin McLain as executive director was a stroke of genius. He is ably assisted by Mary Roberts.

The cafe in the lobby has been an issue for years. Kim Doggett told me that this year the cafe had turned the corner towards profitability. Kim credited much of the improvement to the efforts of Trustee Paul Zuest. Mr. Zuest, the former manager of the Chatham Bars Inn, worked tirelessly with the menu and operation of the bar, and particularly with the staff and with Johnny Martinez, the general manager of the cafe. Johnny now supervises his cafe staff and the volunteers who man the concession stand.

Kim credited one other person with a lot of the success: Jeffrey Jacobs of Jacobs Entertainment, Inc. Mr. Jacobs offered his skilled advice when the new theater was being constructed. He championed the two-screen concept and the purchase of state-of-the-art projection equipment. Mr. Jacobs is the film booker and the Orpheum has benefited greatly from his ability to acquire popular first run films.

I spoke with Winnie Lear, one of the trustees, and she said that one of Mr. Jacobs' key skills was his understanding of the changes in demographics in Chatham by season. By recognizing that the summer audience is many years younger than the winter audience, he is ably to tailor the film selection to generate the most participation. A spoke in the wheel, but an important spoke.

The Orpheum is a non-profit community theater and involvement with the community is an important part of their operation. One of many of their community outreach efforts involves Cape Abilities, the nonprofit for individuals with disabilities. I contacted Troy Smith at Cape Abilities and he praised the Theater’s Sensory Friendly Film Series. Troy wrote that no other theater on Cape Cod offered a free film series for individuals and their families. To date, nearly 750 people connected with Cape Abilities have attended films at the Orpheum. He went on to say that the series provided a comfortable and safe place for these individuals to enjoy a movie. The program has provided a great deal of enjoyment and happiness for those who attended. It is just one of many community out-reach programs.

I’m certain my friend Bill would find enjoyment and happiness at The Orpheum, also. Since he would be 45 years older, perhaps he is no longer “huggin' with his baby in the last row of the balcony,” but then again you never know.