The smell of fresh popcorn once again wafted through the Penmar Theatre as a new society officially raised the curtains Saturday on its plans for breathing new life into the building.
To kick off its fundraising drive, the Penmar Community Arts Society invited the public back to the theatre for an afternoon matinee for kids, followed by a 1950s-themed evening gala with a special showing of Grease.
Organizers intend to shift the theatre away from mainstream movies towards independent, ethnic and second-run films, plus performing arts.
So far, the plan has drawn rave reviews.
“Whatever they do, it’s going to be a venue for something different that’s out of the mainstream, so I think that’s going to have people come participate,” said Al Tweter, who took his grand-daughter to the matinee.
“They’ll do the right thing. They’re not trying to compete with the other theatre. They’re doing their own thing and hopefully we’ll all support it,” he said.
The society is hoping people support the concept financially by becoming part of the group.
The cost to join ranges from $50 for a single participating member to $1,101 for a sponsoring family, and includes a range of incentives like discounts and access to special events.
Society secretary Jennifer Vincent said the group is hoping to sell as many memberships as possible ahead of the official grand reopening scheduled for April.
“It should be clear though that, no matter what, we’re opening in April with whatever we’ve got,” she said.
The theatre is expected to be reborn with three auditoriums, the largest of which will seat 350 people, plus an updated lobby and washrooms. Future plans call for the amalgamation of two auditoriums to form a larger venue with up to 650 seats.
For now, guests will be placed on folding chairs because the former tenant, Landmark Cinemas, is alleged to have sent to the landfill every seat in the place, plus the film projection equipment, before its lease expired on Nov. 30.
On the bright side, Vincent said, the empty theatre provides a nice blank slate.
“It’s a lot easier to envision what the change is going to be, rather than coming in to what everybody remembered from before. It’s a tired building. It needs some refreshing, so it’s nice to kind of be at this point,” she said.
Vincent said since the society revealed its plans publicly two weeks ago, the board of directors has been “overwhelmed” by positive feedback.
“It’s been obvious that this is a point of nostalgia for people and they were very sad that it closed,” she said, when it was shuttered in favour of the new Landmark Cinemas 7 that opened in October 2012.
Among those who missed the old theatre was Rhonda Canaday, who attended the Saturday matinee with her grand-niece and grand-nephew.
“A lot of memories here,” said Canaday, adding the theatre’s rebirth “just has to happen.”
“It’s a piece of Penticton and you can’t get that anymore, you know?”
More information on the Penmar Community Arts Society is available online at www.penmar.ca.