Celebrating 76 years at The Old Theater
By Mary Frances Taylor. Published in The Pamlico News, 3/16/2022
The very first film to ever be shown at The Old Theater was Blue Skies, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, and the year was 1946. At that time, the name of the theater was Mart Theatre and the cost of a movie ticket was a quarter, candy was a nickel, and popcorn was a dime. Until it closed in the late 1950s, the Mart Theatre was showing films every night of the week. On Sunday and Monday, there was usually a musical or comedy, and on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday a variety of films were shown from drama to detective films. The ever-so-popular cowboy westerns were shown on Friday and Saturday. This historic movie house holds cherished, nostalgic memories for Oriental and it has a most interesting history to tell.
Mart Theatre closed in the late 1950’s and the building eventually was used for storage until 1987 when the Pelican Players, a community theater group, rented it for rehearsals and for storing props, costumes, and sets.In the early 1990s, the Pamlico County Civic and Cultural Center Project was formed to raise funds necessary to purchase the building and renovate it as a performing arts center for live plays, concerts, and films. The residents of Pamlico County raised $100,000 to bring the building up to modern systems and county codes with professional lighting and sound systems, stage curtains, and comfortable seating for 150 moviegoers.
In 1992, the Old Theater Corporation was formed to facilitate its use and manage operations with endorsements from county legislators, Pamlico County Schools, Pamlico Community College, and the Pamlico Arts Council. The theater reopened to the public on March 15, 1995. In 2007, the Old Theater Corp. added a motorized movie screen and projection equipment so that classic movies and new releases could be shown on the large screen.
Today the Old Theater Corp. owns and manages the theater through a Board of Directors comprised of community volunteers whose mission is to ensure that Pamlico County and the town of Oriental have a venue for civic and cultural events. The theater provides a broad range of theater-sponsored events such as films, live plays, performing artists, and fundraising events and is available for use by civic, business, club and charity organizations as well as children’s programs and workshops. Ongoing partners with the theater include the Pamlico Musical Society, Children’s Theater Workshop, Community Band, and Pamlico Chorale to name a few. Beginning in April of 2022, the theater will be the location of Arapahoe Charter School theater productions.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, when the theater was forced to close its doors for a period, renovations were made to the inside which included new stage curtains and a professional-grade air purifying system. Maintenance and improvements of the Old Theater depend on the ongoing support and participation of individual contributors, community businesses, service organizations, grants and folk who volunteer on stage and behind the scenes. It also depends on successful membership drives, leasing income, ticket sales and dedicated service of volunteers who keep the facility running.
The Old Theater Corp. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization accepting new members and donations online at www.oldtheater.org/support/donate/ or by check mailed to P.O. Box 521, Oriental, NC 28571. Community support is always appreciated.