The venerable Capawock movie theater on Main Street in Vineyard Haven will remain dark for the rest of the winter, except for special film events. Exit Matt Damon and Seth Rogen stage left; enter tenor Placido Domingo, soprano Renee Fleming, and the great debaters stage right.
Ben (“Buzzy”) Hall Sr., who shares ownership of the property with his sons, said economics is behind the decision to curtail showing Hollywood movies, but his love of music and community events will keep the screen occasionally bright over the next several months.
“Due to lack of attendance, we decided we couldn’t afford to stay open,” Mr. Hall told The Times in a telephone conversation Friday. “And we haven’t been able to keep it open for some time.”
Mr. Hall said winter revenues did not come close to paying the costs associated with heating and lighting the building, staff, insurance, and taxes. He said he and his sons have kept the theater open as a benefit to the community.
“Its our little philanthropic enterprise,” he said. “We keep it open for the benefit of the employees. My son and I myself haven’t taken paychecks for over five years.”
The Hall family, which includes his sons Ben Jr., and Brian, are significant Island property owners and landlords. In addition to the Capawock, the Halls own the Strand and the Island movie theaters in Oak Bluffs, open only in the summer.
Mr. Hall said any other property owner would have converted the building to some other use years ago. The fact that it remains a movie theater, he said, has much to do with his love of movies and the arts.
“My two sons own the property, and they just allow their old man to do what he loves to do,” he said. “That’s what it amounts to.”
Mr. Hall said the decision to close for the winter was made in an effort to cut expenses. He said first-run Hollywood commercial films are expensive to show when there is only one screen.
Distributors expect to receive a percentage of ticket sales. “Half the money that comes in the window goes out the window, fifty percent, “Mr. Hall said. “They are our partners.”
Distributors also sometimes require a certain number of screenings per film, particularly with new releases. Mr. Hall said he has a symbiotic relationship with Edgartown Cinemas, the two-screen modern theater on Main Street in Edgartown. “We share prints. Our booking agents get their heads together, and we circulate a print. So we can get anywhere from five to seven days guaranteed to the distributor.”
Mr. Hall said he must pay a concessionaire, a doorman, a cashier and a projectionist to open the doors. In the winter, he said, the attendance may be so low that it is not worth opening the doors.
He said the Edgartown Cinema has the advantage of two screens and automation, which helps keep overhead down.
A blow to Main Street
In 2004, the Halls closed the vintage 1912 movie theater for renovations. It did not reopen until November 2006.
The loss of the Main Street anchor business was a blow felt up and down the street and generated a campaign of public criticism, and veiled threats of eminent domain.
It also led to the formation of a grass-roots organization of year-round residents, summer visitors, and Island business owners who encouraged and supported the theater, urging it to reopen and remain open.
For now, the screen will remain dark until weekends this spring and reopen fulltime this summer. In the meantime, the theater will be used for special events and art films and Buzzy Hall’s first love, opera productions.
“Anybody who would like to use the theater, we’ll listen,” he said. “We have minimum charges for expenses. And there are various ways we can open the theater for special film events.”
For example, on Friday morning as part of Black History month, Island eighth graders will be treated to a special showing of the “Great Debaters,” a 2007 film starring Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, about a black college debating team that challenged Harvard in the national championship.
On Saturday, the Capawock will host an MV Film Fest showing of the Oscar nominated documentary, “Inside Job.”
“The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is kind of underwriting it for me,” Mr. Hall said. “They want to boost their membership. It’s a real fine piece of reporting.”
On Sunday, the Capawock will feature Verdi’s “La Traviata,” part of a continuing series, in what Mr. Hall bills as “Opera Sunday.”
A love of music
One might not guess, watching the bespectacled Mr. Hall put up movie posters, that he once aspired to sing professionally. But his love and enthusiasm for opera bubbles just beneath the surface, and he is easily prompted to burst into song (see mvtimes.com).
Asked about his love of opera, Mr. Hall said, “You’re talking to the best tenor on Martha’s Vineyard.”
Mr. Hall said his love of opera began at an early age. “I used to listen to Saturday afternoon at the opera when I was a child playing with my toys on the floor in front of the radio. And my mother would ask me if I wanted that and change the station. And I would protest and say, ‘I love all that hollerin’.”
Mr. Hall does not expect to pack the house for his Sunday opera series.
“I might have 25 or 30 people there,” he said. “It all depends what our opposition is. We always have our faithful. It’s a losing proposition too.”
He admits that the only reason he does it is because he loves opera. “Yes, and I like people to know about opera, and I would like to see more younger faces around there.”
Mr. Hall lent his tenor voice to several Island occasions, including the Island ceremonies the Steamship Authority hosted when the Island Home was launched.
Mr. Hall, 76 in April, proudly said that he has been a member of the Edgartown Federated Church choir for more than 50 years.
“That’s another story, a story of faith,” he said.