Spradlin: Theater the way it was meant to be seen

My wife and I took a chance over the past weekend. Instead of seeing a movie inside a regular theater, we went old school. Stephanie and I traveled to downtown Southern Pines Sunday afternoon to watch “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon.

Reese Witherspoon stars in "Wild," a tale of a woman's 1,000-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Reese Witherspoon stars in “Wild,” a tale of a woman’s 1,000-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.

My crush on Reese aside, I was there for three reasons. First, it’s been quite some time since my wife and I went anywhere without the children. It was nice to have a few hours alone.

Second, the movie tells the story of a woman who decides the Pacific Crest Trail — PCT for short — and I know a guy who’s done that. While living in Washington state, a friend named John told me all about it. I was hooked immediately.

Last but not least, I wanted to see what the Sunrise Theater was all about. I’d recently learned of its existence and, being a member of the Richmond Community Theatre’s board of directors, was excited to see what another small city has done with a former movie house.

The Sunrise Theater on Broad Street was built in 1898 as a hardware store. It became a movie theater in the 1940s and was used for that purpose for more than four decades. When the theater shut down, the Arts Council of Moore County and the Sandhills Little Theater “rallied enough community support to restore the building and give it a third life as the Performing Arts Center, owned and operated by ACMC.”

Still more information is available on the Sunrise Theater website, such as: In 1998, ACMC transferred the theater’s operation to the Sunrise Preservation Group (SPG), citizens concerned with keeping the theater alive for the community. SPG formed a not-for-profit organization and through dedicated effort, compromise and goodwill, the historical theater building has a new lease on life. ACMC transferred ownership of the theater building to the Sunrise Preservation Group in 2005.

Wild1Today, the Sunrise Preservation Group is running a thriving entertainment center, an “Art House” of sorts. With first-run and independent films running weekly, the movies at Sunrise have become a popular source of entertainment for Sandhills residents. Musical concerts, live broadcasts of the Met Opera, live community theater and a smorgasbord of other offerings has helped Sunrise Theater continue to be the cornerstone of arts and entertainment in the Sandhills.

The cost of a ticket was about $8.50, I think. Honestly, I was so taken in by the personal, sincere greetings of those representing the Sunrise Theater that I didn’t pay much attention to the total.

Before the movie began, a volunteer stood in front of the screen and addressed the audience — the seats were roughly three-quarters filled for a Sunday matinee — and thanked them for supporting the theater. Then he corrected himself — “your theater.” It felt good to be a very small part of what is obviously a very large success story.

The seats were comfortable, the film was good — if slow in some parts — and the experience was highlighted by a post-movie trip to a local ice cream parlor for delicious wraps. We skipped the homemade ice cream (but won’t make that same mistake next time). All this … only 25 minutes up the road. What was offered was a very real, very personal experience. Sure, there were not live actors on stage — clearly a great way to see a story unfold, but not the only way.

Then I began thinking. Could that happen in Richmond County — where the local theater becomes a daily part of our lives? Time well tell. It takes vision, gumption, guts and no small amount of money. It would bring a change in the status quo where ever the effort would be centered. I wonder if the people here are up to the challenge. Never mind. I don’t. I know they are.

I’m likely to go again soon. If you’re interested in seeing “Wild,” the Sunrise Theater announced a third week of the film, through Jan. 15. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. weekdays and, on weekends, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.22.20 AMKevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. He can be reached at 910-331-4130 or peedeepost@gmail.com.

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