When attendees go to the Rowland Theatre, they don’t just get popcorn and a movie, they get an experience. To help enhance that experience, the theater’s board of directors is looking at future renovation projects and is in the process of organizing a weekend-long film festival.
In the fall, the Rowland plans to host the festival with the help of Penn State professors Pearl Gluck and Curt Chandler. The plans are still in the development phase, but the event will take place the weekend of Nov. 8.
Gluck, whose first movie memory is sneaking out of school to go to the movies, said she fell in love with the Rowland and those who help keep it running. Her film “The Turn Out” was screened at the Rowland in April 2018. Gluck hopes the film festival will increase awareness of the Rowland, spark discussion about film and garner cultural engagement.
“This is a place of engagement, and it’s a witness in some ways,” Gluck said. “It’s like a building that has life.”
What makes the 102-year-old theater unique, board member Rebecca Inlow said, is that the Rowland shows newly released movies while maintaining its historic features.
Built in 1917, the Rowland has seen a series of updates. For its 100th birthday in 2017, a new marquee was installed that is an exact replica of the original. Earlier this year, the stage was replaced. Most recently, the 18 original stained-glass window panes above the entrance were refurbished to look the way they did when the theater first opened.
“When you come in, nobody knew anything changed because they look like the original,” Inlow said. “That was the point.”
The panes were driven in groups of six from Philipsburg to Dubby’s Stained Glass in Front Royal, Virginia. The original windows were cracked and chipped, and the refurbishment was paid for with the help of a facade improvement grant from the Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation, Inlow said.
“They’re clean, and they’re repaired,” she said. “To us, who have seen them everyday, they’re beautiful.”
Inlow said the Rowland’s presence in Philipsburg is long-standing, and those who help keep the theater running appreciate its history and sentimental value in the community.
“If you either lived here or were from here, whether you moved out, you have a memory at the Rowland,” Inlow said.
One of Inlow’s favorite questions to ask is what someone’s first movie memory is. Her first movie memory is seeing “101 Dalmatians” at the Rowland in 1969.
“Why I remember that ... is because there was that bar,” she said. “We were in the balcony, and there was a bar obstructing my vision. I just remember that as a little kid and not being able to see.”
Inlow has been involved with the theater since 2015 and considers her role on the board to be her “fun job.”
“That little girl never would have realized the involvement that I would have had here,” Inlow said.
The Rowland’s biggest source of income is its ticket sales, which help fund renovation and restoration endeavors, Inlow said. She said the board of directors, manager Kevin Conklin and other volunteers help keep the Rowland running. The theater only pays a few cleaning staff members who work a few times during the week. Although Inlow said operations will have to change eventually, she is optimistic about the Rowland’s future.
“If the past is any indication, the story will continue,” Inlow said. “In the history of the theater, it almost closed a couple times, and each time the community jumped in to save it. I hope that will always happen.”
Running a historic theater in a small town while trying to keep it open poses a number of challenges to overcome, Inlow said. However, the theater offers a series of special events throughout the year such as catered dinners and movies on Valentine’s Day, sensory-friendly film showings where kids and adults with special needs can see a movie and participate in hands-on activities. The Rowland also organizes themed nights, spaghetti dinners and bike rides to “broaden the film experience.”
“It’s so easy to watch a movie, so you just have to keep offering something to get the people here,” Inlow said.
One of Inlow’s favorite events is hosting the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, a group that plays the scores to black-and-white silent films.
While the Rowland only has one screen, Inlow said multiplexes can’t compete with its prices. Accepting either cash or check, the Rowland charges $6 for adults and $5 for kids and senior citizens. A small popcorn costs $2.50, and a small soda is $1.50.
If there’s one complaint guests have about the theater, it’s about the Rowland’s seats, Inlow said.
Getting new seats is at the top of the Rowland’s to-do list, but Inlow said finding the funds to pay $400 per seat is a challenge.