Theater Foundation agrees to 20-year deal for Capawock, Strand theaters

All sides hailed a collaboration they said would breathe new life into the theaters, and expand the Island’s cultural venues.

Michael Cummo

The classic film scene has always been the hero rescuing a damsel in distress from the railroad tracks at the critical moment. In the episodic story of the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation (MVTF) over the past eight weeks, there was no train barreling down the tracks, only a ticking clock.

On Thursday, MVTF founding Director Mark Snider announced he had signed a 20-year lease with the Hall family, owner of the Capawock theater in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Snider said he expected to ink a similar deal for the Strand in Oak Bluffs on Monday.

With that out of the way, Mr. Snider said, the foundation still needed to meet its goal to raise $1 million. The foundation needs $300,000. He said he is determined for the theaters to be open for business by May 29.

“We have three weeks to raise it, so we really need help,” he said.

Mr. Snider said “in-kind” support to get the theaters open would also be appreciated.

Thursday afternoon, Mr. Snider; David Nathans, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum; Richard Paradise, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society; and theater owners Benjamin (Buzz) Hall and his son Brian Hall spoke optimistically and enthusiastically about the collaborative effort that bore fruit, the programs they expected to bring to the theaters, and the importance of the buildings to the community.

“This has been a long road,” Mr. Snider said, “but I am very pleased to say that as of 10:30 last night, and after three months of fruitful discussions, we have a signed agreement for the Capawock, and just because we ran out of time, the Strand could not be completed, but that should be done Monday.”

Mr. Snider said the negotiations took time because it was important it be done right. Initially, the term of the lease was 10 years. Mr. Snider said that generated a lot of skepticism. He said the Halls understood the need for a longer lease.

“There was a lot of discussion about details that allow the foundation to be viable,” he said. “I don’t want to set something up that won’t succeed.”

The lease is now 20 years, and the Halls will make a donation to the Capawock, Mr. Snider said. The lease also allows the foundation the ability to walk away from its agreement on an annual basis for the first seven years, in the 12th year, and in the 16th year, “which allows a nonprofit the chance to succeed,” he said, “and not be overburdened, and that took some time to work out.”

The Leones, who currently lease the Strand, will also make a donation, he said, so the foundation can proceed with its use of the theater. Mr. Snider said it was important to have a good lease so the foundation can succeed.

The Film Society will operate the three theaters. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum will provide five previews, short film clips that have the feel of newsreels and depict Island life and culture, that will be shown before any program.

“We have a lot of work cut out for us,” Mr. Snider said.

Renovations will begin immediately. New digital projection and sound equipment is being ordered. Fabric will be changed in the interiors, and the exteriors will be made attractive.

“We want them to be vibrant, and what they were, but with a 21st century appeal to people,” he said. “The theaters will not only show films but be capable of live performances and lecture series — and it will all be computer-compatible.”

Buzz Hall said he is very pleased that the theaters he described as a labor of love will gain a new lease on life. “I think it’s time for new blood and new technology, and Brian [Hall] has worked so hard to keep the Strand and Capawock viable,” he said. “Anyone else would have torn them down years ago.”

Mr. Hall said he has been in the movie business since childhood, when his father owned the theaters, but times have changed. He said the creation of the foundation was a dream come true. “I’ve been dreaming that someone would come up with a nonprofit idea to sustain these buildings and continue the experience on the Island that so many adults, who have come up to me, have remembered as children from when they came here in the summer months.”

Brian Hall has in turn been the theater manager, repairman, and projectionist. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s exciting that new life and energy is going to be put into those buildings and there’s going to be some lights on. It couldn’t have been done without the efforts of Mark Snider and his group.”

Mr. Hall said the business reality is that it had to be a nonprofit. “There are no more single-screen movie houses in the entire country that are for profit,” he said. “Everyone that you find is supported by a nonprofit. It is just the way the world has gone.”

All agreed that the movie theaters will help anchor their respective communities. Mr. Snider said they will initially be open from May to October, and be heated and air-conditioned.

Mr. Paradise said the programming will be very diverse, “multipurpose and multigenerational.” The programming will reflect the interests of the community, he said.

Mr. Snider has recruited a board of directors that includes West Tisbury author Geraldine Brooks, singer Carly Simon, businessman David Grain of Chilmark, and seasonal residents Peter Givertzman of Tisbury and Gwen Adams Norton of Oak Bluffs.

Notwithstanding all the talk about the future, Mr. Snider said, “We need help now.”

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