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Little Ohio theater set for big renovation in spring

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Sunday, February 3, 2013 - 10:34 am

DAYTON, Ohio — A small-town, single-screen movie theater in southwestern Ohio is about to meet the 21st century.

The scrappy but cherished Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs is set to undergo a $475,000 renovation this spring.

The Dayton Daily News reports that the theater will be equipped with the digital projection and sound need to show movies once 35 millimeter film is phased out. The theater also will get new seats, a new screen and an increased floor incline for improved sightlines.

No date has been set for when work will begin and or how long it will last but theater managers hope it will only be closed for two months.

The update is a long time coming for the theater, which has been virtually unchanged since it opened in 1929.

In 1987, a concession stand was installed and new seats were swapped in, but the seats were 12 years old.

"As long as I've been associated with it, it's never been state of the art, which is part of the charm," said Jenny Cowperthwaite, who's managed the theater since 1978.

Cowperthwaite bought the theater in 1998 and turned it into a nonprofit in 2009, a move that forced her to give up ownership but that likely saved the theater from going under.

"I could see I wouldn't be able to maintain it much longer with my own blood, sweat and tears," she said. "I needed help," she said. "We just limped along."

Three years after she made that move, she said she has no regrets and attendance even went up.

But in 2011, Cowperthwaite got a letter from leading distributor of independent films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, telling her that it no longer would distribute 35mm films by 2013.

"I felt this knot in my stomach," she said.

So last August, the Little Art board launched a capital campaign and within four months, met its goal of raising $475,000 to go digital and to fix all the other problems in the theater, too.

Cowperthwaite credits a $250,000 gift from the Morgan Family Foundation in Yellow Springs and a $30,000 gift from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation with the campaign's success.

"People have been so generous in these tough economic times because the Little Art Theatre is both literally and figuratively the center of downtown," said Dorothy Scott, the campaign's honorary chairwoman. "It goes without saying that we compete against the stadium seating of the surrounding theaters."

One of the few things set to survive the renovation will be the theater's six house lights, which were designed, painted and installed in 1947 by an Antioch College student.

Everything else will be state of the art.

"It's been a dream to upgrade," Cowperthwaite said.