Movie theaters have gone beyond movies, just as local playhouses have found another way to light up their walls in between stage show commitments.
From Metropolitan Opera “Met Live” presentations from New York, anniversaries of classic movies such as “Gone with the Wind” and various concerts simulcast nationwide, all at Cinemark at Coastal Grand mall in Myrtle Beach, and Emerging Pictures’ “Opera & Ballet In Cinema” series at both Grand Strand Carmike sites – at Broadway at the Beach, and Myrtle Beach mall, near Briarcliffe Acres – cinemas have carved a new level of entertainment experience for moviegoers.
Terrell Mayton, director of marketing for Carmike, a chain based in Columbus, Ga., said the 2-year-old opera-and-ballet series – with a live presentation at 2 p.m. Sundays and an encore at 7 p.m. Tuesdays – has developed “huge” followings.
He thinks that because arts funding has become more precious or reduced in communities, “the opportunity to see outstanding, world-class opera and ballet” on a movie screen locally, with surround sound, takes entertainment in an extra direction.
“We’re always looking for ways to find additional avenues to entertain our guests,” Mayton said, reiterating a role to help provide access to arts.
Such arts series’ appeal varies per market, and they tally higher attendance in bigger cities such as Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah, Ga., said Mike Lebinski, Carmike’s tri-state regional manager.
Mayton said big sporting events, including mixed martial arts and boxing, also have scored with moviegoers.
“We’ve shown the Little League World Series in markets where they had finalists,” he said.
Touring Broadway productions that can’t schedule stops in smaller markets also expand their reach with cinema simulcasts, Mayton said, giving people who can’t afford the drive to a bigger city, a show experience in high definition near home.
“When you think about a movie theater,” he said, “we’re not just showing movies.”
With such special events, Carmike has heard from patrons who relish being able to “feel like you’re right at the event,” Mayton said.
‘Part of the arts’
Also, with opera and ballet companies that might lack “big budgets to market” their shows, silver screens allow that extension of the arts, said Mayton, who has sat on arts commissions.
“We want to be viewed as part of the arts community,” he said.
Jerry Dalton, founder and director of the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival – a showcase for independent moviemakers that returns for its eighth year April 24-27 at Carmike’s Broadway 16 – said “a slight decrease” per capita in the amount of moviegoers in general has prompted theater chains to pursue more “alternative content.”
“They’re looking for ways to occupy screens that would otherwise sit empty,” Dalton said, how “at the end of the day, it’s all about occupancy: You want to fill those seats.”
Dalton also said producers of an opera and ballet series, just like major movie studios, place their movies on a “certain amount of screens” blanketing the scene coast to coast, and although one event “might not play well in City A,” it hits big in “City B.” He also noted how Charleston, in particular, stands out, for such embracing of special content.
Donald Sloan, a music professor at Coastal Carolina University and a composer, appreciates the extra outlet operas have gained in movie theaters.
He said how “a few years ago, the big thing was Saturday afternoon broadcasts on the radio” and those provided lifelong influences for “many opera singers and conductors.”
Sloan sees the emergence of cinema simulcasts of operas as the equivalent of those opera radio programs and that “150 years ago in Europe,” opera houses had the position that movie theaters have in society today.”
“They were entertainment for everybody,” he said. “They sort of let people leave behind their troubles for an evening.”
Opera hosts would welcome folks who were not wealthy enough for prime tickets to sit up close on the floor or way up high for a lower admission price, “to fill the house every night,” Sloan said, remembering his time as a student in Paris, for example, in uppermost balcony seats.
“They called it paradise,” he said, savoring the view. “If you were any higher, you’d be in heaven.”
Citing the expense that accrues to travel from South Carolina and stay in New York to see The Met – “it would be a week’s salary” – Sloan likes how cinematic access has brought “opera back to where everybody in any place can see it.”
“It is a new concept, and technically new, but it’s not new,” said Sloan, who remembers his initial concern that this 21st-century adaptation might not work, especially with PBS’ broadcasts.
Yet, he said, “these things are wildly popular.”
He said his mother, on Long Island, could commute into the Big Apple to see live opera, but she has latched on to the high-definition productions carried in her local movie theater.
“Even there, the tickets are hot,” Sloan said, seeing more positives from opera’s extension and growth nationwide in this format,. with easier affordability for more people.
“People love opera because it has everything,” he said. It’s has costumes, movement, acting, great music, characters’ emotions – all the stuff we want.”
More shows go on
Local stage theaters also have made movies another draw to fill their seats.
Elizabeth Haring and Karen Yaniga co-founded the “Strand Cinema” series in 2012 at the historic Strand Theater in Georgetown, the home of the Swamp Fox Players troupe.
The series, stressing what Haring called “more obscure” films such as foreign, independent and small-budget fare, had been proposed “for many years,” because the theater remains dark between play runs.
“Our focus, our mission,” Haring said, “is to show recently released films.”
She said a film selection committee of a handful of people “have been watching movies from most of their lives” and that “they know about what movies are out there” by keeping track of film festivals such as Cannes, Sundance and Toronto. Almost every film plays twice in Georgetown: one on one weekend and again a week later in the afternoon or evening, the opposite from its first screening time.
Membership in Strand Cinema also brings a partnership with 30 to 40 Georgetown-area businesses, which offer discounts to cardholders, Haring said.
“Part of doing it is to try to bring more people to Georgetown” she said, “and the businesses have appreciated it.”
Tim McGhee, executive/artistic director of Theatre of the Republic, said showing classic movies at the Main Street Theatre in Conway, in between each production’s three-week-long series of performances, reaches back to its roots right after World War II.
“It is such a treat to be able to show classic movies on a big screen,” McGhee said, “using our historic theater for what it was originally built to do.”
Theatre of the Republic’s playhouse, first opened in 1947 as the Holliday Theatre. Trivia buffs take note: Its first movie, from that same year, starred Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara, “The Foxes of Harrow.”
“Not only can we present classic dramas and musicals,” McGhee said, “but we can share with the community some of the best in classic American cinema in a theater with an historic ambience.”