Tupper Lake’s State Theater fights to go digital

TUPPER LAKE – The lights at the State Theater are $10,000 closer to staying on.

A keyboardist and a saxophonist provided smooth jazz outside the downtown theater as owner Sally Strasser accepted the check from the Tupper Lake Arts Council, which will go toward enabling the venue to screen digital movies.

The money was left over from a fundraising effort launched by the now-defunct Tupper Lake Presents group in 1982 to renovate the theater after it closed in 1972. That group was revitalized in the 1990s and renamed the Tupper Lake Arts Council.

“They kept that money in the bank, and when we rejuvenated the group, we inherited the leftover money,” said Beth Johnson, president of the Tupper Lake Arts Council.

In addition to the $10,000 donation, Johnson said the arts council will match any donations the theater receives, up to a total of $5,000.

“The theater is a real anchor to all of the businesses here on the street,” Johnson said. “It’s the one thing that’s happening every day, every evening, seven days a week, and it’s available for special events. It’s more than just a movie theater.”

Prior to the latest donation, Strasser had obtained $35,000 from donations and grants to fund the project, which will cost $90,000 to complete.

Upgrading the theater’s technology was not by choice. Starting this fall, Hollywood studios will no longer release movies on 35 mm film, a decision that has left many owners of small movie theaters apprehensive about the cost of becoming digital-ready, which will require them to install digital projectors and new screens, sound systems and wiring.

The Adirondack North Country Association teamed up with the Adirondack Film Society in 2012 to create the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign to help eight movie theaters in the region afford the transition. So far, two have succeeded: the Indian Lake Theater and the Cinematheque in Glens Falls.

For Strasser, who bought the venue in 2004, keeping the State Theater open means more than going digital – it’s a labor of love.

“It’s always been my dream to operate a little theater, and it needed my help,” Strasser said. “These small theaters are closing one-by-one. These types of theaters offer more of the American experience. They’re little gems; they’re a part of the community and they’re a part of economic development. When restaurants close down here (Tupper Lake), I feel it. When I’m closed, they feel it. We all depend on one another.”

State Sen. Betty Little attended the ceremony, and agreed that theaters like the State are an integral part of small-town life.

“In a town this size, there aren’t a lot of activities for young kids, and being able to have a movie theater and a movie to go to is really important,” Little said. “Sally has been a real leader in this whole ‘Go Digital or Go Dark’ campaign, and in trying to organize the small movie theaters as to what they can do and how they can go about doing it.”

As theater-goers gathered on the sidewalk, eagerly awaiting the next showing of “The Wolverine” or “The Smurfs 2,” many pulled out their checkbooks and made a donation.

Deborah Meyer of Tupper Lake was one of the first to contribute to the cause that evening. Meyer, who has been seeing movies at the theater for more than 10 years, has also volunteered her time painting floors to spruce the venue up.

“Sally runs it like a hometown theater. It makes me want to pitch in to help save it,” Meyer said. “It’s worth saving; it’s history. I want to see this street have more stores open, and this is a big part of making it look good. I love Tupper, with all my heart.”

At 7 p.m. Aug. 6, the State Theater will screen the movie “The Mountains Will Wait” to raise money for the theater’s go-digital transition. The film is director Fred Schwoebel’s account of Grace Hudowalski, the first documented woman to summit the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. There is a $20 suggested donation to see the film.

For more information, or to donate money to the State Theater, visit www.tupperlakemovies.com.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.