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theater needs $33,000 for upgrade A digital future projected

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, July 23, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, July 23, 2011, at 8:14 a.m.

How to help

Donations to help pay for the digital upgrade at the Augusta Theatre can be made online at www.augustahistorictheatre.com or by calling 316-775-2900.

Contributions may also be mailed to:

Augusta Theatre

523 State St.

Augusta, KS 67010

Make checks payable to the Augusta Arts Council. Contributions are tax deductible.

If you go to the Augusta Theatre

What: The recently renovated Augusta Theatre will show its final two new releases on its 35 mm film projectors over the next week before upgrading to a digital projector on Aug. 1. Today through Thursday, movie-goers can catch "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2." The movie is rated PG-13. "Zookeeper," rated PG, will play Friday through July 31.

The theater will show its first movie on its new digital projector —"Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" in 3D — at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5. It's rated PG-13.

Where: Augusta Theatre, 523 State St., Augusta

When: Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday. Starting July 29, the theater will show movies Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime.

How much: $5 per ticket. Children 2 and under get in free.

For more information, visit www.augustahistorictheatre.com or call 316-775-2900. For updated showtimes, call the movie hotline at 316-775-3661.

Next week, the blinding glow of Augusta Theatre's old projectors will flicker out to keep up with the film industry's push toward the digital age.

Behind the heavy oak doors, the fully restored historic theater still boasts its 1949 decor. But the theater will be upgraded with a new digital movie projector Aug. 1, shutting down the two 35 millimeter film projectors it has used for decades.

The change comes because the film industry is releasing movies mostly by digital means, said DeAnn Triboulet, executive director of the Augusta Arts Council. The council owns and operates the theater, which seats 500.

"I don't have a problem with the digital coming," she said, because the picture and sound will be better.

"But... you are going to see places like this close because they cannot come up with the $80,000."

That's what the new projector costs — $10,000 more than David and Aline Bisagno paid for the building before converting it into the theater in 1935.

The Augusta Arts Council still needs to raise $33,000 within the next few weeks to avoid taking out a loan to pay for the upgrade, Triboulet said.

"We're just hoping the money comes through, or we are going to be in a bind," she said.

When the Augusta Theatre opened, more than 15,000 theaters were operating in the United States, said Richard Sklenar, executive director of the Theatre Historical Society of America. Today, about 300 historic theaters, including Augusta's, are still open, he said.

"Frequently, they got knocked down and just became parking lots," said Sklenar, who visited the Augusta Theatre in 2004. "Some were recycled and reused for other purposes."

The Augusta Theatre was closed for four years after its original owner tried to sell the building in 1985. The Augusta Arts Council bought the theater in 1989.

"The building was sitting here, and they were going to start selling the neon and the murals and the seats," Triboulet said.

"We just couldn't see it destroyed. It's a beautiful piece of art."

An extensive one-year renovation of the building, costing more than $330,000, started in 2006. The interior of the theater is restored to its 1949 look, complete with murals, art deco detailing and carpet that was remilled to match the original.

The digital upgrade is one more change needed to keep the theater open, faced with the gradual phasing out of 35 mm film by the movie industry.

"By 2013, you won't be able to get any," Sklenar said.

Triboulet said on occasion the theater will still use the old projectors. She is planning to show the 1925 silent film version of "The Phantom of the Opera" in October. Another silent film is scheduled for February.

"I'm just not doing a silent movie on a DVD," Triboulet said.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com.

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