The long-dormant Strand Theatre at the foot of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs reopened Friday night in gala style at an invitation-only event hosted by Mark Snider, the motivating force behind the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation (MVTF).
On Saturday night, the Strand opened to the general public. Movie patrons lined up along the sidewalk and filed into the freshly painted and appointed theater, providing a jolt of energy to the already bustling summer feel of Oak Bluffs.
On opening night, Mr. Snider and his wife Gwenn, partner in the endeavor, stood in the lobby and welcomed the invited guests as they arrived, amid the aroma of fresh popcorn and fresh paint.
“Isn’t it a great place?” Stanley Snider of Edgartown, a fit and trim 88, said as he watched his son welcome patrons.
Asked what he thought of his son’s decision to take on what seemed to many to be a daunting project — cut a deal with the Hall family, owners of the two moribund movie theaters, and resurrect each one with just months to go before the summer began — Mr. Snider said, “He’s project-minded, that’s his nature, and he always gets it done; it’s always the last minute, and he gets such a big kick out of it it’s a pleasure to see. He’s not like me at all.”
The deal was signed in February. Work began in earnest this spring on the Capawock and Strand. Both theaters now boast state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, both of which were on full display Friday night.
Dennis DaRosa, a Circuit Avenue businessman and civic leader, said the theater could only help area businesses. “Now the community needs to get behind it,” he said as he stood in the line for the concession stand, where popcorn was on sale at “retro” prices, $1 a bag.
Many of those who filled the seats took the opportunity to reminisce about childhood trips to the Strand. Oak Bluffs Selectmen Greg Coogan and Gail Barmakian sat side by side, and talked about what it was like when they were kids growing up in Oak Bluffs. On hot summer nights the doors would be left open to allow the night breeze to blow through the theater, they said. New air conditioning systems will eliminate the need for that.
In the back row, Denys and Marilyn Wortman of Vineyard Haven might have been a pair of teenagers. “We want to neck,” quipped the former Tisbury selectman when asked why they had picked the balcony. “If only that were true,” said Marilyn with a laugh.
The evening began with a brief introduction by Richard Paradise, Martha’s Vineyard Film Society executive director, who will have the responsibility of overseeing the theaters for the foundation.
“There is nothing more magical than going out to the movies,” Mr. Paradise said, “when those lights lower down, the music starts, and the picture comes on the screen.”
The evening began with a performance by the duo Dwight and NIcole, described as an American roots band. Dwight Richter’s rich guitar work and Nicole Nelson’s crystal voice were a good first test of the theater’s sound system, and its versatility as venue for live performances and film on the same night.
When it was his turn to take to the stage, to a hearty round of applause, Mr. Snider referenced the monumental effort in the face of skepticism it took to prepare both theaters to open in time for the summer. He said achieving the goal was due to the hard work and support of everyone involved.
“From generation to generation,” Mr. Snider said, “going to the movies on the Vineyard was a ritual filled with communal memories, and many of you have told me of how sad you were that these iconic theaters were shuttered, and how you wanted your children and your grandchildren to have the same enjoyment you experienced within these walls.”
Mr. Snider thanked a long list of supporters, and noted the foundation had raised $875,000, which was still short of its goal. “We continue to need your help,” he said to the audience.
The audience then settled back with the rest of the nation to watch PIxar’s Inside Out, showing across the country for the first time Friday night.
Love of movie theaters
The Strand was the second of two daunting projects the MVTF took on when Mr. Snider created the nonprofit and began a $1 million fundraising campaign.
On May 29, the MVTF held a grand opening of the recently renovated Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven with the help of MVTF board member Carly Simon, who was joined by her children Ben and Sally Taylor. The performance was followed by a showing of the feature film Pitch Perfect 2, a movie about a college a capella group.
The combination of a live performance and film provided the audience with a taste of the theater’s adaptability. The MVTF’s goal is to use the venue for a number of different types of events, which include film, lectures, and live performances.
The Strand and its sister theater, the Capawock, had sat unused and at the center of controversy over their deteriorating condition until Mr. Snider arrived on the scene.
Mr. Snider, co-owner of Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown, began informal talks with the Hall family, owners of the theaters, last summer. In February, he announced the creation of the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation, and said that he had reached an agreement in principle on two long-term leases, for the Strand as well as the Capawock. He said he intended to have the iconic Island movie houses renovated and operational by Memorial Day of this year.
“Since I was a little kid, I have loved these movie theaters,” Mr. Snider told The Times in February about his reason for getting involved. “I have always loved what they represent to the towns, and when they closed down, I was really heartbroken about it. I just waited, hoping things would happen, and they didn’t. I was inspired by an editorial that ran in The Times about a year ago [June 11, 2014, “Forge a partnership”], and I decided to do something. I want to see these theaters alive and meaningful and part of the communities and filling the need that I think they do.”
Mr. Snider began assembling a board of directors. In February he announced that Ms. Simon had joined the board.
In April, Mr. Snider announced that he had signed a 20-year lease with the Hall family, with incremental opportunities for the foundation to break its agreement, a provision to financially protect nonprofits from going bankrupt.
For more information on the foundation, go to MVTheaterFoundation.org.