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NOW PLAYING: Small Town Theaters

SAVING THE BAY THEATER A Community Makes It Their Own

BACKYARD MOVIES! Everything You Need To Be A Hit

The Great Drive-In Comeback

Psst … Honor and Manistique Never Left

A supplement to

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Celebrating Small-Town Theaters











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This year, our annual Filmgoer publication, which we typically release in July to coincide with the Traverse City Film Festival, looks very different. The Film Fest has been postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19, and while theaters are allowed to operate at the time of writing, some, including TC’s State and Bijou, have elected to remain temporarily closed due to concerns for guests’ and staff safety. While we missed the incredible movies, filmmaker discussions and absolute wonder and excitement the festival has brought to Traverse City since its founding in 2005, this change in format has also given us a chance to shine the spotlight on independent local theaters, stretching along the Lake Michigan coast from Manistee and Frankfort, in Elk Rapids and tucked up in Cheboygan and Newberry. These theaters, and the passionate owners and community nonprofits behind them, have been a part of the North’s thriving arts scene for decades (Marquette’s historic Delft Theater opened in 1914!). We hope you find these stories to be both inspiring and fun, and that you continue to support and find joy at these theaters for decades to come. Carly Simpson Digital & Content Editor

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IT'S MOVIE NIGHT! Let nature dim the lights as your yard sets the stage. BY KIM SCHNEIDER You might expect a Northern Michigan novelist and his Realtor wife to plot out a memorable backyard movie party. The “characters” at Richard and Debra Hall's legendary backyard movie nights are their assembled friends (as many as 50, but your house will dictate the size of your guest list and screen). Their setting includes an inflatable movie screen they found online, a small projector and a projector screen (though a large white sheet or fleece blanket works in a pinch). They flavored the plot with a purchased hot dog machine, like you'd find at the drive-in, and popcorn, of course. And at their gatherings, there may even be a bit of costuming—at the screening of "Back to the Future," guests dressed to represent a decade past. In Northern Michigan, movie party options are only limited by the imagination. Warm September nights extend the option of a backyard party well into fall, and shorter days allow you to start the show as early as 8 p.m.—maybe even plan in a double feature. 44

Here are a few tips for throwing your own movie night under the stars—drivein style, or with blankets and lawn chairs. Splurge on a rental, especially if you want to try out the concept before investing in a projector and speakers. A+ Entertains of Petoskey picked up on the interest in home movies and now rents everything you need. They have an HD projector that can show 3D movies as well, and they also bring a 16-foot screen, a theater sound system and vintage popcorn machines and popcorn bags. ($150 within an hour's drive of Petoskey; an additional charge for farther travel). Make a candy counter. A card table covered with a red table cloth will work just fine; worth the investment is a little candy display holder and, of course, movie-sized boxes of the classics. Get a volunteer to play usher the authentic way, with a thrift-store vest and a whitestriped paper vendor's hat.

If your speaker system allows the sound to carry far enough, and if you have space for parking, make it a drive-in. Let people sit in cars, vans or pickup trucks decked out with a mattress and blankets.

ADD A SPECIAL TWIST The Lively family of Burdickville is known for throwing creative bashes, and a regular gathering of friends who play music morphed into the LivelyLands Music Festival. But friends also love them for movie nights that tend to lean toward baseball flicks, fitting because their “theater” is atop their Wiffle ball field. Their formula for fun is a sunset ball game, hot dog roast over a bonfire and then the main event. “We also stock a few old Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse short videos that play before the feature film, like they do at the drive-in,” Jim Lively says. You can stream a movie if you're showing the film close enough to a home’s WiFi; otherwise, pop in a DVD.


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Ingredients ¼ cup coconut oil ½ cup raw corn of your choice 1 teaspoon salt Seasoning of choice Melted butter (optional) Add-ins like dried cherries, pretzels, M&Ms, etc. (optional) Preparation In a crank-handled popper, movie popper or sturdy stockpot: Heat ¼ cup oil over medium-high heat (coconut oil has a higher smoking point, so corn doesn't burn as easily). Heat oil with about five kernels of corn with lid on, and when they pop, add the rest of the corn (½ cup, or two parts corn to one part oil). Shake pot periodically using oven mitts and holding lid on tightly until most of the popping stops. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and other seasonings if desired. It's ideal to add seasonings when the popcorn is still warm, especially if you’re using oil or butter as opposed to making your corn in an air popper. Drizzle melted butter if you'd like. TIP: Let guests choose their seasonings or combine options—white cheddar and jalapeno or dill pickle with ranch. Consider offering individual bowls with mix-in options like chocolate chips, peanuts, Reese's Pieces and more.

Up Your Popcorn Game The first steam-powered portable popcorn maker hit streets across the United States back in 1885, and street vendors would stand outside fairs, sporting events and circuses, luring customers with the wafting smell. Movie theaters snubbed this popular snack at the time, not wanting to see the random kernels ground into the fancy theater carpets of the day or film dialogue interrupted by crunching. But then came the Great Depression, and audiences who flocked to the cheap diversion of the movies also loved the 5-cents-a-bag treat they could afford, says Andrew Smith, author of “Popped Culture,” a history of popcorn. The theaters offering popcorn were the ones whose profits soared—and the concession stand behind the ticket counter was born. A yard is an even better place to serve the treat, and while just the smell of popcorn (with plenty of butter) is likely all you'll really need for movie night success, it's fun to up your popping—and topping—game. Pick up any of 60 flavors, pre-popped and ready to go, at the popular Pop-Kies Gourmet Popcorn on Traverse City's Front Street. Serve your movie guests the Front Street Blend of caramel corn and cheddar, or bags mixed with cherries and chocolate. Owner Amy Gembis also recommends popping your own from their classic recipe and topping it with one of their dozens of pre-mixed seasonings (dill pickle is the bestseller, followed by white cheddar and Parmesan garlic)—or a creation of your own.

the flavor's in the corn ...

Amy likes to use mushroom popcorn, which she sells at Pop-Kies, because the kernels pop up large— like a mushroom—and the surface space allows for the adherence of a lot of butter and seasoning. But the options don't stop there. Karen Pontius, owner of Suttons Bay Trading Company, has been selling popcorn throughout the 20 years she's been in business, as well as hand-crank poppers and custom seasoning blends. She recommends her miniature white popcorn if you like your corn sweeter (like corn on the cob), but also carries traditional yellow, red, blue and rainbow varieties.


RECIPE BY KAREN PONTIUS, SUTTONS BAY TRADING COMPANY Ingredients 1 cup butter 1 cup light brown sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla ½ teaspoon baking soda 10 cups popped corn Preparation Melt butter over medium heat, add light brown sugar and stir to a boil. Cook five minutes more without stirring, adding the vanilla at the four-minute mark. At the five-minute mark, add baking soda to aerate the caramel and make it easier to coat the popcorn. Drizzle mixture over popped corn.

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SAVING SMALL-TOWN THEATERS As other Up North communities have done, Suttons Bay residents recently rallied to keep their vintage theater from going dark, and the tradition of downtown movie-going has never held more promise. BY KIM SCHNEIDER | PHOTO BY DAVE WEIDNER A dancing frog was singing “Hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal,” Gloria Swanson was on the big screen and ladies were being asked to remove their tall feathered hats when The Bay Theatre first became a community gathering place in downtown Suttons Bay. But an early ad that read, “You are missing part of your life if you don't attend the movies,” is as timeless today as it was when the theater opened in its current location in 1946. That was made clear when the theater's long-time owners announced in December 2018 they would be closing, and the community decided that couldn't happen. Today, in the circa-1946 building with its pastel-painted storefront and classic marquee, the nonprofit Bay Community Theatre is drawing full houses to its fun mix of first-run, summer blockbusters and indie flicks. The community donated enough money for the purchase of the theater, and volunteers help plan programming and serve up the popcorn, craft beer and welcoming smiles. “When we got into this, our small group said, 'This is a really important institution in our little town. It's the only theater in the county. We don't want to lose this,'” says Rick Andrews, president of the Bay Community Theatre Board of Directors. “Turns out a lot of people feel that it adds to their quality of life to be able to go into town, have dinner and see a movie. People are really happy.” STUMBLING TO GREAT SUCCESS The Bay morphed from commercial theater to a nonprofit in 20 days, and the group made sure against all odds that the theater wouldn't go dark in the transition time.

“It was Dec. 11, 2018. That was the day the Bahle family (the long-time owners) stood upon the stage of a packed theater and officially announced, 'We're closing.' It was amazing—the turnout and excitement at the end of that meeting,” Andrews says. “A group of us gathered at the front of the stage. None of us knew one another, but we said, 'Yeah, I'm willing to put in the time. By December 31, we had a lease, an operating agreement and a nonprofit. “It was very fast, but we said we'd rather keep the lights on even though we don't know what we're doing, and stumble our way through,” Andrews says. What they stumbled upon was a formula for success, with attendance that first year up 45 percent over the same time the previous year. Finding the right mix of movies was key, Andrews says—something a programming committee now decides through a mix of “art and science” in conjunction with a professional company that selects movies for small independent theaters. In the warmer months, the theater's target audience is vacationers—many of them families with children. In the tourism shoulder seasons, the target audience is an older, highly educated crowd accustomed to the type of cinema offered through the theater's long-time Beyond the Bay film series of independent and foreign films. The connections brought by the resort community's full- and part-time residents have paid off, too, in a not-sotraditional theater experience. When “Toy Story 4” premiered in town the day before its national release, star Tim Allen (a long-time Leelanau summer resident) was in the audience playing host. The showing of “Framing

John Delorean” included a Q&A with one of the car company's chief engineers and the editor of Car and Driver Magazine and the writer of a Hemingway film was in the audience to share the film's backstory. And if those watching “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” were wondering if Tom Hanks’ portrayal was true to Fred Rogers, they need only ask. A long-time friend of Rogers was on hand to speak. “At the end of the day, you can see movies in all kinds of places, but having someone there to share the context adds so much more texture and value to the film you show,” Andrews says. As it evolves, The Bay will continue to add concerts, lectures and other events to the movie lineup, but showing great films will remain a focus with speakers on hand if circumstances allow. Future expansion to the adjacent building now housing a branch of Chemical Bank is an option too, with rental income currently offering an important revenue stream. This summer, the focus was on safe fun. The theater opened to a maximum of 50 people per movie (a quarter of its capacity) with a seating plan not unlike table reservations. A party of two got a “two-top,” if you will, or bundle of two seats together, a group of three a bundle of three seats, and so on. No theatergoer had anyone seated in front or back of them or to their left or right. Since Hollywood delayed the release of its typical summer blockbusters to a later time, The Bay focused on offering classics along the line of "E.T.", "Jaws" and the like, for $3 a ticket. “We said 'let's be a point of fun and enjoyment of life at this point when it's been a tough ride for a lot of people,’” Andrews says. 4

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Catch a Flick Downtown THE TAHQUA-LAND THEATRE, NEWBERRY Here, it almost doesn't matter what's on the screen, for there's story enough in the purple (reclining) seats, 10,000 sheets of gold leafing and 11 large-scale murals representing stories told in Greek mythology. Go, too, for the over-thetop retro fun of the space and the creative cinematic lineup. 212 NEWBERRY AVE., TAHQUATHEATRE.COM


LYRIC THEATER, HARBOR SPRINGS The interiors are as poetic as the name of this nonprofit with three theater spaces of varying sizes in one building—one focused on current films, another on classics and the third on foreign films and documentaries. Artists, architects and even an expert on the stars were enlisted in the restoration, and the result is that one theater captures the feel of being in a west-moving boat along a bluff and another mimics the ride in a railcar, the way vacationers reached Northern Michigan in the 1920s, the theater's heyday. 275 E. MAIN ST., LYRICHARBORSPRINGS.ORG THE GARDEN THEATER, FRANKFORT At this 300-seat downtown theater, you might find an entire film festival lineup (they hold several) on one visit, at another, the film portion of a “dinner and movie” pairing with nearby Stormcloud Brewing Company. Beer and movie combos are popular, too; watch the website for dates when you get a beer token (for a beer paired with the film's theme) with your already reasonably priced movie ticket. It's also worth the visit to the theater, originally built in 1923, for the art deco touches and restored murals. 301 MAIN ST., FRANKFORTGARDENTHEATER.COM

THE KINGSTON, CHEBOYGAN This theater was built to recall the style of the magnificent theaters of Detroit when it opened in 1920 with the film "Pollyanna", complete with a trap door on stage and an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys that controlled the curtains for live performances. In front, an orchestra played along with the silent films of the day. Today, you see some of that magic in the restored front lobby. 406 N. MAIN ST., NORTHERNMICHIGANCINEMAS.COM ELK RAPIDS CINEMA Charismatic theater owner and former village president Joe Yuchasz is almost as much an institution as this downtown cinema that opened in 1940. Ask him the story of the restored Art Deco beauty, and also be sure to look up. This theater, with updated sound and projection systems, is also home to the largest “black light ceiling mural” in the world, the painting of a green forest of trees circling a sea of blue created by artist Robert Spinner for the theater's opening. It's still lit by six custom-built sconces. 205 RIVER ST., ELKRAPIDSCINEMA.COM 48

DRIVE-INS MAKE A COMEBACK Drive-in theaters never went out of style Up North, but they’ve enjoyed a surge in popularity nationwide this year as guests sit in their cars and enjoy a flick while safely distancing from others. We recommend cruising over to these beloved venues: Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre, Honor This was the Cherry Bowl Drive-In’s 67th year operating in Honor—the Clark family has continued the tradition of opening the theater each summer season over the last couple of decades. The Clarks have struck a magical balance between capturing and preserving the nostalgic atmosphere of the ‘50s (like serving up buttery popcorn made in the original 1953 popper!), while embracing new elements like modern projectors and FM radio sound, which enables viewers to hear the entire pre-show, feature and vintage footage through their car’s stereo system. Another perk? Well-mannered pets on a leash are always welcome. During summer weekends, the box office opens at 7:30 p.m. and the first feature begins at dusk. For more information, visit cherrybowldrivein.com. Highway 2 Community Drive-In, Manistique The U.P. Film Union, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, owns and operates the last drive-in theater in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Tucked off US-2 in Manistique, the Highway 2 Community Drive-In hosts free movie events, thanks to sponsors, along with ticketed concerts. This summer, several onenight-only concert features were filmed exclusively for drive-in theaters across North America. On June 27, a Garth Brooks concert was shown in 300+ outdoor venues across the U.S. and Canada, and Blake Shelton, with special guests Gwen Stefani and Trace Adkins, was on screen in July. The Highway 2 Community Drive-In had guests come in from across the state, including Lansing and Traverse City, along with visitors from Appleton, Wisconsin, and Rochester, Minnesota. The U.P. Film Union also hosts a monthly film club. Find upcoming events at facebook.com/upfilmunion.


VOGUE THEATRE, MANISTEE This theater's Art Deco theme was a controversial contrast to the Victorian architecture of the rest of Manistee's River Street when it was built in 1938. It was described as “ultra-modern” and “luxuriously fitted with every convenience.” A community initiative to restore the theater as a nonprofit and again light up the neon marquee has sparked a downtown renaissance of new businesses, cafes and restaurants in the Victorian Port City. Visit for first-run movies, 25-cent family matinees or Wednesday morning classics.


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Filmgoer 2020  

This Year, Movies Move Closer to Home / Now Playing: Small Town Theaters / Saving The Bay Theater: A Community Makes It Their Own / Backyard...

Filmgoer 2020  

This Year, Movies Move Closer to Home / Now Playing: Small Town Theaters / Saving The Bay Theater: A Community Makes It Their Own / Backyard...

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