Pittsfield community trying to save a ghost of its past — the theater

Members of the Pittsfield Community Theatre Fund Raising Committee gathered on Thursday, April 21, 2011 to accept a $5,000 challenge grant from the Greater Pittsfield Area Kiwanis.
Members of the Pittsfield Community Theatre Fund Raising Committee gathered on Thursday, April 21, 2011 to accept a $5,000 challenge grant from the Greater Pittsfield Area Kiwanis.
Posted April 24, 2011, at 5:42 p.m.
Pittsfield Community Theatre Manager Donna Dunphy said the theater's projectors are workable but becoming more antiquated as time goes on. They will be replaced as part of a $700,000 capitol campaign that kicked into high gear Thursday, April 21, 2011, when the local Kiwanis group provided a challenge grant of $5,000.
Pittsfield Community Theatre Manager Donna Dunphy said the theater's projectors are workable but becoming more antiquated as time goes on. They will be replaced as part of a $700,000 capitol campaign that kicked into high gear Thursday, April 21, 2011, when the local Kiwanis group provided a challenge grant of $5,000.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Ghosts, brain wraps and the old Voice of the Theater sound like vestiges of the supernatural, but they’re not.

Or maybe they are, according to Pittsfield Community Theatre manager Donna Dunphy.

Brain wraps are when whirring, hurrying streaks of film crinkle upon themselves, making for some interesting but unintended special effects on the screen.

The old Voice of the Theater is a cutting-edge sound system — or at least it was decades ago when it was installed.

And ghosts, well, they’re whatever makes the theater’s hulking projector click off without warning every now and then.

“We call them that because a lot of people don’t know what causes that to happen,” said Dunphy, who, as the long-standing projectionist, knows the antidote.

Those problems and myriad others are part of a long to-do list at the theater, which according to Pittsfield Town Manager Kathryn Ruth is the only town-owned facility of its kind in New England. A committee of volunteers who want that fact to last is working on raising $700,000 to fix everything from the projection system to the very seats that are used by dozens of theater-goers, seven days a week. The effort scored a major boost Thursday when the Greater Pittsfield Area Kiwanis donated up to $5,000 as a challenge grant, which means the organization will match all cash donations up to that amount between now and July 31.

Kiwanis President Jennifer Dow, like scores of other Mid-Maine residents, has been visiting the theater since childhood, which she said is almost always a positive experience. Years ago a film called “Sons of the South” sent her crying into the lobby and the arms of her doting father. But that was an exception.

“I’ve seen a lot of movies here, everything from ‘Grease’ to all the ‘Star Wars’ movies,” said Dow. “This fundraising project is very important to the town.”

The Main Street building, which the town bought in 1977 for $24,000, is showing its age. It needs everything from a theater lighting system to new seats to handicapped accessibility. A committee has been quietly raising funds for the past several months, but now is concentrating its efforts. Numerous fundraisers are under consideration, such as a summer concert series, the return of a golf tournament that started last year, a casino night and a battle of the bands. Beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, the Sebasticook Valley Elks Lodge of Pittsfield will host a spaghetti supper and raffle. The cost is $5 per plate or $20 per family.

The intent behind all of it is to preserve a valued community institution, which shows movies throughout the year for just a few dollars a seat.

“I can bring my whole family here, with drinks and popcorn, for less than $25,” said Dow. “That’s compared to $75 or more for a trip to a theater in Bangor.”

Dunphy said her most rewarding moments are when the audience reacts.

“When they scream all of a sudden because something’s scary or laugh, or cry on the way out, that makes it all worth it,” she said.

To donate to the Pittsfield Community Theatre’s capital campaign, send checks to the Pittsfield Town Office, c/o Theatre Fund Raising Committee, 112 Somerset Ave., Pittsfield 04967.

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