FRANKLIN — The movie industry is in the spotlight this weekend as a Franklin movie theater celebrates its grand re-opening. Their big screen is known to play classic films and is a family tradition for many Hoosiers.
Franklin's Historic Artcraft Theatre has endured it's own dramatic screenplay playing out in real life, with regular showings canceled throughout the past year due to the pandemic. Now, more than a year after the stage lights went dark and with restrictions now lifted and vaccinations in full swing, the show must go on.
It is the sound and smell that fills any night at the movies: the popcorn has been served and the box office is selling out for the first showings of The Historic Artcraft Theatre’s re-opening.
The 625 seats inside have been left mostly empty for more than 13 months. People sitting in those seats, even at it’s 30% limited capacity for social distancing, is a sight for sore eyes for the Rob Shilts, executive director of Franklin Heritage and The Historic Artcraft Theatre.
“Surreal,” Shilts said. “What you don't understand what you don't see, is that when this building is empty, there is no energy. Everything is brighter when you have those folks in here.”
This theater that sits on Main Street in the heart of downtown Franklin has a long history. Built in 1922, it started as a silent movie theater and a vaudeville house. In 2004, the theater was condemned by the city. Franklin Heritage Inc, a non-profit historic preservation group, bought the theater and restored it back to life.
Now, the theater has faced yet another challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.
"March 17 (2020) is when we officially closed the doors,” Shilts said. “And we had to do a walk-through of, you know, we got to shut this system down, we are going to do this. And that was really a sad day.”
After a successful year in 2019, 2020 came with a plot twist. Theaters were some of the first businesses forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, they are one of the last businesses to reopen.
The Historic Artcraft Theatre survived 2020 and now 2021, with loans and grants. Plus, through some creativity to get extra business, popcorn sales and private watch parties.
“To be dark that long and then try your best to come up with any kinds of ideas to raise any kind of revenue,” Shilts said. “We just tried anything we could and then if that didn't work, then we would go and do more. You have to be resilient.”
The Historic Artcraft Theatre is riding off into the sunset, thanks to the perseverance of Hoosiers dedicated to the silver screen.
“Community gathering places like this, Where it doesn't matter what team you play on or whatever, but that you enjoy a movie together,” Shilts said. “And I think it is time after this pandemic just to do that, sit down and watch some funny movies and watch these things together.”
The theater had its first regular showing since March 2020 this weekend at 30% capacity. On April 30 and May 1, The Historic Artcraft Theatre will play the 1992 classic "Newsies." Tickets can be purchased online and COVID-19 precautions are in place.