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TVP Colonnade marks 1st full year
Story and Photos By Duane Good, Editor

The TVP Colonnade’s exterior includes an homage to the original facility’s marquee and ‘‘C’’ design motif.

A year ago this month, the Twin Valley Players presented its own Christmas gift to residents of the Sentinel’s coverage area – a gift that had been several years in the making.

It was a gift the TVP hoped would give on giving for many years to come.

Unwrapped, that gift took the shape of a movie theater; a theater with an old, familiar name – the Colonnade – but one that had been reborn for both newer and older generations to appreciate.

By all accounts, the community has appreciated it very much. And as a way of returning its appreciation, the Colonnade will mark its first-year anniversary this weekend by re-screening the blockbuster film "Frozen’’ – the very first major release shown at the facility the first weekend it opened.

This year, the film will be presented in a ‘‘sing-a-long’’ format at 6:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 19 and 20. Christmas week will see the return of a holiday-themed film festival that proved successful last year, including offerings such as ‘‘Miracle on 34th Street’’ and ‘‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’’

As with all Colonnade film showings, profits from the sale of tickets and concessions go toward the TVP’s upcoming productions and outreach efforts such as the summer theater camp and scholarship programs.

In addition to the regular screening of first-run films, the Colonnade also now serves as the home theater for the TVP’s theater and Roadshow productions. The TVP staged ten presentations of ‘‘The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’’ in July. (‘‘Nunsense’’ has been announced as the 2015 summer show.)

Other special events included screenings of classic films such as "The Wizard of Oz.’’

As was done last year, Christmas-themed TV series and films will be presented in the near future, and a hoped-for Halloween tradition was begun with a presentation of ‘‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’’ prefaced by a live show by the TVP Roadshow musical ensemble.

Appreciation by young and young-at-heart. The original brick-and-mortar Colonnade opened on Center Street in Millersburg in 1919 during the silent film era. It remained operation for more than 80 years, closing in 2001. It was bequeathed to the TVP by the Troutman family – the owners at that time – in 2008. When a restoration of the building was deemed not feasible, a totally new structure – with modern amenities such as stadium seating, surround sound and digital projection – was designed and constructed.  (Millersburg native and architect Craig Zimmerman designed the facility.) were included
Jack  Geyer Jr. gives his father, Jack Sr., an overview of the theater’s digital projection equipment.

Vestiges of the original theater – including a 1940s-era carbon-arc projector and the marquee that was in place when the theater closed – have been retained as an homage. The marquee, in fact,  became part of the concession area, a feature that’s proven popular with filmgoers, particularly those who remember the previous theater.

‘‘People can make their own memories.’’ When the facility was unveiled last Christmas season, it soon became clear to the TVP that the rebirth of the Colonnade was an idea whose time had come. Within the first two weeks, the facility’s Facebook page received more than 2,000 likes. Meanwhile, theater staff and supporters were receiving a lot of real-life thanks.

‘‘Every day someone would come in and tell us, ‘I remember when I used to go to the movies here.’ or ‘I came here when I was a kid. Thank you for reopening,’ ” said Dr. Todd Hoover, vice-president with TVP. ‘‘People felt nostalgia for the old theater but they also appreciated that the new one is state of the art. We had numerous comments on Facebook saying they couldn’t believe we had a theater again locally and how nice it was.’’

Hoover also enjoyed seeing children’s faces light up as they entered the building.

‘‘It’s nice that it is here and people can make their own memories,’’ Theater Manager Adam Steppy added. ‘‘We had small children coming in for ‘Frozen’ and it was their first film ever.”

Facebook also proved to be a useful tool for receiving feedback from theater patrons on what they liked or what they’d like to see in the future, both on the screen and at the concession area.

‘‘Almost every candy we ended up getting had been requested on Facebook first,’’ Steppy noted. “We also got suggestions for things we hadn’t thought of, like booster seats for the younger kids.’’

“Getting feedback like that makes the operation significantly more cost effective at every level, both admissions and concessions,’’ Troutman added.

‘‘What’s spent here, stays here.’’ As people have patronized the Colonnade, some of them are surprised, but pleased, to learn that the theater is a non-profit entity established to benefit the TVP. For that reason, it was decided to make sure the TVP’s name a part of the building.

‘‘A lot of people didn’t know that, but they are happy to learn they are supporting a non-profit,’’ Hoover stated.

(At the present time, Steppy is employed part-time as the general manager; concessions and other functions are handled by five part time cashiers and a group of what the TVP calls volunteers dedicated to the theater and its goals.)

“One of our missions in starting (the theater venture) was – we wanted people to connect with the organization; we’ve been around more than 40 years and some people have never heard of us,” Hoover said. ‘‘They see the theater and they ask – the TVP, what is that? Hopefully now, by attending a movie, they will have heard.’’

The TVP continues to offer four membership tiers, ranging from an individual family/plan that provides price breaks on admissions and concessions all the way to a package that includes tickets to the summer production and the opportunity to rent the facility to show the film of their choice.

Rental of the facility for private functions (business meetings, educational programs, etc.) also is available to the community.

More information on memberships, as well all other aspects of the theater, are available at tvpcolon

From the start, the TVP strove to make ticket and concession prices affordable and market the theater as a viable alternative to going out-of-town.

‘‘For the community, there is always a slide in the pre-show preview stating that every dollar you spend here, stays here. It doesn’t go anywhere else,’’ Troutman noted. ‘‘If we can make more than the cost to operate the building, then we can do more not just with the theater, but with the arts as a whole in this area.

‘‘Down the road, I think you’ll see some of the other ideas we have had that I think will surprise people. We are going to do things you don’t ever see in the larger movie theaters in the cities.’’

Features that went over well last year included usherettes dressed in Christmas-themed garb and an appearance at the ‘‘Frozen’’ shows by Millersburg resident Carly Smith, who was described as the ‘‘spitting image’’ of Ilsa, one of the film’s main characters.

“We want to give people that personal touch you don’t always see in the larger theaters,’’ Hoover said.

Some of those ideas include opportunities to instruct young people in various aspects of the performing arts– not only acting, but backstage craft – i.e. lighting, makeup and set design – as well. Acting and vocal music lessons for the public also are being considered.

More live performance on the theater stage remain a goal going into 2015.

‘‘We’d like to see local performers who will play before the shows rather than have canned music,’’ Troutman said.

‘A dream come true.’’ The TVP Roadshow’s performance of ‘‘The Time Warp’’ before the ‘‘Rocky Horror’’ could be a sign of things to come, according to Brandi Geyer-Wilbert, the group’s director.

‘‘I have visions of holding several annual events featuring some of our best shows.’’ she said. ‘‘I would like to present our Christmas show every December; hold a sock hop featuring our Fabulous 50s/60s Flashback show, followed by dancing to the Geyer Brothers Band, every spring; and host a Halloween Costume Bash, featuring our Halloween show, followed by dancing to the sound of our very own DJ every October,’’

‘‘I also envision presentations geared toward children or showcasing show tunes; the possibilities are endless,’’ she added.

‘‘Words simply cannot express how incredibly excited I am to have an official home of the Twin Valley Players; I, along with my father and my sister, began performing with the troupe in the late 1980s when such a thing was merely a pipe dream. The dream coming true is made just that much more special knowing our home is the Colonnade – the very theater in which my grandfather worked as the projectionist for many,  many years beginning in 1948.’’

‘It just boggles my mind.’’ Jack Geyer Sr. was given a tour of the projection facilities by his son, Jack Jr., and he marveled at the changes that have occurred since the time he held the projectionist job at the original Colonnade from 1948 to the early 1970s. (Both Jack Jr. and his brother Gary operated projectors at the Colonnade as well as the drive-ins in Halifax and Gratz that the Troutman family also operated at the time.)

‘‘It’s all so electronic now,’’ Jack Sr. said of today’s digital protection equipment. ‘‘It just boggles my mind; I can hardly bring myself to believe what I’m seeing.’’

When Jack Sr. operated the Colonnade’s projector, practically everything was done manually; a typical feature-length film contained anywhere from five to eight separate reels and the cartoons were on a separate reel.

‘‘You had to get the film in, inspect it for any problems, put it in the projector tail-to-head and make sure it was the right reel; you had to make sure all the reels were in the right order,’’ he said.

Another challenge was the fact that projectors in the pre-digital age used carbon-arc lighting that had to be watched carefully lest a fire would start.

‘‘You had to watch the lighting and bring it down when necessary; for music before the movie, I had to play my own 33 1/3 records.’’

With their involvement in the theater for so many decades, the Geyer family also is happy at the level of interest in the new Colonnade.

“I’ve been watching the crowds and I know very few people, so I think that means we are drawing from all over the valley, not just Millersburg,’’ Jack Geyer Jr. said.

Marvin Troutman, whose family operated the original Colonnade for more than 40 years, hopes area residents will appreciate what they have in their own backyard.

‘‘It’s one of the greatest things that’s happened in the town; there’s nothing like it for at least 200 miles,’’ he said. ‘‘A little town with a theater showing first-run films is unheard of. It’s a real blessing to have it and I would hope people really support it.’’

Supporting local business. Through 2015, the Colonnade will continue to mix first-run film screenings with classics, children’s movies and thematically-related titles, as well as pictures that film fans otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to see locally.

‘‘If we can introduce people to other quality films, it can open up their landscape,’’ Steppy noted. ‘‘The blockbusters are great; they help bring in the money we need, but that’s not all that’s out there.’’

Another continuing goal will be to help grow Millersburg’s business climate by pointing theatergoers to other places they go while in town. (When the theater originally was conceived, it was envisioned as an anchor business to eventually help grow other shops on Center Street.)

‘‘We continue to refer to that on our Facebook page; while you are in town, shop here and eat here,’’ Hoover said. ‘‘That’s part of our mission, too – to support local businesses and bring new businesses in.’’

‘‘We want to help make Millersburg the thriving community we know it can be,’’ Steppy said.


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