Philipsburg

Rowland Theatre returns to another era

Members of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra create the soundtrack to a Buster Keaton silent movie on Saturday night at the Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg. The event, called “The Clown Princes,” featured the work of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
Members of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra create the soundtrack to a Buster Keaton silent movie on Saturday night at the Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg. The event, called “The Clown Princes,” featured the work of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. For the Centre Daily Times

Guests took a step back in time Saturday night when they entered the Rowland Theatre — about 100 years back in time.

Philipsburg resident Hank Powers and his wife, Judy Shaw Powers, were even dressed in old-time attire.

With a silver vintage sequined and feathered headband, beaded necklace, and a frilly and fringed dress, Judy Shaw Powers said she did her best to look like a flapper from the 1920s.

She said it brought her back to the time when her parents grew up.

“I only heard stories, but this gets me a little nostalgic,” she said.

For a $20 admission fee, they were able to watch films the way it used to be — silent, but accompanied by a live orchestra that played music and sound effects to the screenings.

This year, the theater’s board of directors was able to book the Lewisburg-based Paragon Ragtime Orchestra for the event.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, founded 30 years ago by conductor Rick Benjamin, travels the world performing.

The 12-member orchestra has been to 49 states and seven countries, Benjamin said.

He founded it at age 19 as a way to highlight music from a period of time that wasn’t well-represented, Benjamin said.

Paragon Live in Historic American Theaters is a part of the orchestra that puts on performances at historic theaters.

“I guess it just brings people back to a different time,” Benjamin said.

They play in a pit while performing ragtime music and sound effects for old movies. They even participate in live entertainment during intermissions, and encourage the crowd to act as though they’re in the time when the movies came out.

“We encourage audience participation,” Benjamin said. “It’s OK to clap or boo. It’s part of the experience.”

“Cops” and “Get Out and Get Under” from the 1920s, and “Easy Street,” which was released in 1917, were the three films featured Saturday night.

Board member Rebecca Inlow said the original scores were fragmented, but Benjamin reconstructed them.

Saturday night was the rewelcoming of the pieces, she said.

To get his hands on those original scores, Benjamin compared what he did to what the people on History Channel’s “American Pickers” do.

“That’s how I found them; by looking in old attics and garages, and places just like this,” Benjamin said as he spoke with a reporter in a basement area of the Rowland Theatre. “It’s just that you can sometimes open the door and find something you might not be expecting to.”

Inlow said the board of directors tried to get the orchestra to perform at the Rowland Theatre for “years” beyond what she can remember, but wasn’t able to afford it.

Last year, Paragon Ragtime Orchestra was given a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to perform in historic theaters.

Inlow said a local knew about the Rowland Theatre’s history, and contacted the orchestra.

“The orchestra then contacted the theater’s board to offer a discounted rate and we jumped on it,” Inlow said. “It’s perfect to take us back to that time and see a showing of a silent film near the eve of our anniversary.”

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the theater. The theater opened June 4, 1917, Inlow said.

In celebration of its 100 years, theater representatives are hoping to restore the marquee to the original 1917 glass structure.

Funds are being raised for that project through a sale of engraved bricks to be designed in front of the theater.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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