By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
GROVE CITY —
The Guthrie Theatre premiered its digital projector with an early opening of the anticipated sequel to “The Hunger Games” – amazing those in the historic theater’s seats with the image quality it produces.
“Effie was on the screen and you could count her eyelashes,” said Paula Thomas, speaking of a character in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” She is co-owner of the downtown Grove City moviehouse with her husband, Eric Thomas.
“We’re really excited,” said their son, Ryan Thomas, about the theater’s new 400-pound, Sony 4K projector that was installed a week ago.
The year it took to get the projector was “well worth the wait,” Paula Thomas said.
The Sony 4K has 4,000 lines of resolution, which is the next generation in digital movie quality that outshines the standard 2K, Ryan Thomas said. “You will hear a lot about 4K in the next few years. It’s a big deal, and we’re hoping people will come away pleased.”
“The Hunger Games” was in 2K, but “Catching Fire” is 4K. “The picture is that much more crisp, clear and saturated,” he added. “It looks really phenomenal.”
The Guthrie is the first movie theater in Pennsylvania to have the 4K model, his dad said. The theater is at 232 S. Broad St.
“People are really excited,” Paula Thomas said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
The double feature was offered to theaters with digital projectors a day earlier than the regular premiere of “Catching Fire” last Friday, Eric Thomas said.
About 700 tickets were sold between all three shows, he added. The sequel will remain at the Guthrie for at least two weeks; the first “Hunger Games” was only offered opening night.
A year ago, the Thomases began the campaign “Seatbacks for Greenbacks” to raise money for the digital projector. Theaters have been forced to convert from 35mm film to digital projectors as digital movies are becoming industry standard.
Nearly $30,000 was raised by offering patrons a chance to put their name or business name on the backs of the theater’s seats.
Ryan Thomas said about 62 of the 400 seats are sold.
With half the money for the estimated $60,000 projector installation, it seemed time to make a move, he said.
“My dad and I talked it out and we said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ We couldn’t do a soft rollout like a kid’s movie. We may as well do it right, to do it with ‘The Hunger Games’ (series) in digital the first time.”
With single-screen, small movie houses – and what’s left of drive-in theaters – closing down because they can’t afford the conversion, the Thomases feel blessed. “The community really came together to support the Guthrie with all the money raised for the projector,” Eric Thomas said. A loan was secured for the balance but more money is coming in.
“We’re well on our way,” he noted.
Grove City College has given half of an undisclosed donation to the Guthrie’s campaign and Wendell August just released an ornament of downtown Grove City with the Guthrie in the forefront, Eric Thomas said. The ornaments are $20 and half of the proceeds go toward the projector cost. They can be purchased at the Guthrie and some downtown businesses, as well as Wendell August locations.
“We’re very appreciative” to the college and Wendell August, Ryan Thomas said. “If we go over (the goal), the money will go back into the theater. We’re just caretakers here. Our goal is to keep the lights on and to keep her nice and shiny.”
The 26-year-old grew up in the theater with his sisters Olivia, 20, and Gracie, 11. Their parents bought the Guthrie 12 years ago. Besides the projector, the theater has seen a number of improvements under the Thomases’ ownership, including upgraded speakers, amplifiers and a processor. The original ceilings under the marquee and in the ticket/concessions area were opened and improved. The ceiling above the balcony is new – which, in the old days, was known for its many bats. Most of the electrical has been replaced; there’s also new lighting. The stage was extended; new stained glass was replaced above the exit signs in the house.
Awnings were replaced over the office entry and Lapa’s Barber Shop building, which the Thomases own as well. There’s an apartment rental above the theater, too. “We’ve painted the marquee twice,” Ryan Thomas added. The Thomases want to put parts of the old, historic projector on display in the office window, Paula Thomas said.
Without the support of the community in buying the Sony 4K, “We’d be closed by the end of the year. We’re very grateful,” Eric Thomas added. “But buying it doesn’t guarantee our success. People still need to come to the movies.”
Learn more about the Guthrie and its Seatbacks for Greenbacks campaign at www.the-guthrie.com or call 724-458-9420.
Published Nov. 23, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.