The Jane Pickens Theater & Event Center is a world-class art house cinema located in Washington Square, the historic center of Newport, Rhode Island. The films that are screened and the events that are created in this unique public meeting space, appeal to a broad range of the local community as well as to an important tourist base. The JPT was named one of the top five cinemas in New England by Yankee Magazine. The building was the subject of a Master's Studio at the Rhode Island School of Design School of Architecture in Spring 2012. As one of America's oldest movie theaters, the Jane Pickens Theater & Event Center is an important part of the social fabric of the city Newport. And we were chosen by Newport Life Magazine this year as "Best Date Night" in Newport.
As the only movie house in downtown Newport, The Pickens, as it is known locally, is a film and event space with a sense of style based on history. The schedule of screenings is diverse. First run movies, documentaries and classic films share the screen with prerecorded and live simulcast operas, ballets and staged productions from acclaimed venues like the Bolshoi Ballet, The National Theatre in London and Teatro Alla Scala. In addition to the events shown on our screen, The Pickens plays host to live concerts, special events and even weddings! Community is at the core of our mission. We strive to create events that connect to a broad range of audiences and to utilize this historic building to the fullest potential.
We now face a challenge to our ability to continue to bring these special experiences to you.
The film distributors who provide our films and sell us the rights to show them have made the decision to discontinue making 35 mm film sometime in 2013. Our challenge is that the equipment needed to change to digital receipt of films will cost at least $55,000. While our business at the JPT continues to make strides in a positive direction, the cash flow does not allow us the surplus funds to invest in this equipment. We continue to do all we can to give back to the community of Newport but for owners Kathy & David Staab further personal investment on this scale is not currently an option.
Consistent programming of Oscar worthy independent and foreign films such as The Artist, Moonrise Kingdom, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The King's Speech, The Master, Arbitrage, Anna Karenina and more will only be available to us if we have this new digital equipment.
The major risk for the future of the JPT is that if we cannot achieve this goal, our business cannot survive on secondary films. We will be forced to convert to an event space only or give up on all the efforts/progress of the past eight years due to technical issues beyond our control.
So here is a photo of the 35mm projection equipment we now use. Our films still arrive in big metal film canisters and are built up and broken down by hand. We would keep this equipment in our historic booth for screening 35mm classics.
What is needed is a digital projection system and some improvement to our sound system. If we are so fortunate as to exceed this financial goal, we will use the funds for sound improvements first, then explore the ability to "fly" our screen off stage which would expand our stage area for live performance. These improvements make this historic building more flexible and improve our chances for preservation both of the business and the building.
Remember, we do not receive any funds if we not need achieve our $55000 goal.
Movie projection has changed only a few times in the past 100 years, but the departure from prints of film to digital distribution and projection is monumental. Our art house cinema has kept pace with past changes. The leap from silent to "talkies" in 1927 gave audiences the thrill of sound along with picture, the switch from Reel to Reel projection to "platters" alleviated the need for multiple projectors to show a single film and eliminated the rewinding of films, and now the studios are going digital. Each change has required theater owners to upgrade their equipment, but each change has also meant a more meaningful and fulfilling experience for the theatergoer.
The history of the Jane Pickens Theater & Event Center is remarkable. A complete history can be found here. In a nutshell, our building was constructed in 1834 as the Zion Episcopal Church designed by architect Russell Warren. In 1919, the church was converted to a theater space and we are now celebrating our 93rd year as a theater! The Marr and Colton theater organ sits beside the stage with two pipe lofts flanking our screen. While the organ is not currently operational, the ambiance and nostalgia surrounding a true theater organ cannot be replicated.
Risks and challenges
Our biggest obstacle is the timing of this project and ability to install the equipment. We need to book the installation quickly. We may have 6 months, perhaps slightly longer, before the industry makes a complete transition. However, even if 35mm remains available, it will be in a drastically reduced stock that could impact product availability. The digital installers are presently so inundated with digital upgrade appointments that their calendars are booked out many months in advance. We need to get this scheduled!
Once we install the new equipment other issues will arise that will need to be addressed. We will need to prioritize these issues as listed below and take on those challenges. In the past eight years, the Staabs have personally funded many necessary upgrades including including the mandated conversation of the fire alarm system and much of the cost of the new heating system.
Most of these improvements have not produced revenue but have allowed us to continue to offer the unique experience that the JPT provides our customer.
We want to tackle these challenges separately to make our transition to digital as smooth as possible. We do not want to interrupt our ability to continue offering quality programming while a lengthy installation is completed, so we are planning it in stages.
Step 1 - The digital projector, digital film server, proper lenses, installation and spare bulbs/parts that should be on hand.
Step 2 - Upgraded sound system including Dolby Digital processor, amps, speakers, and new cables.
Step 3 - Restoration of the stage space. Repair and renovation to fly lines to allow for screen to be pulled up and off the stage, offering more room for events on stage without risking damage to the screen.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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