Zebulon Theater patrons have been counting down the days until the facilities doors are re-opened and the community can begin to enjoy a much-needed and anticipated upgrade.
On at 7 p.m., the Zebulon Theater will introduce its digital system with the showing of the blockbuster hit, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
With the theater finally making the switch from film to digital, renovations and new marketing strategies have also been added.
Howard Molton, the Zebulon’s booking agent and consultant, is working diligently to make sure the Zebulon Theater is taken to a new level.
He said, “We are taking the Zebulon to a new level and bringing it back. It’s going to be fun.”
Molton was brought in to help Cairo after the theater committee discovered his connection with small theaters and his innovative marketing strategies to keep them operational.
Molton considers Cairo to be very fortunate in having the Zebulon Theater and the digital conversion, since many small-town theaters are having to close their doors because of lack of funds to convert to digital.
He has had much success with single-screen theaters in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Two theaters Molton has taken an active role in revitalizing are Flat Rock Cinema and Highlands Playhouse, both located in North Carolina.
“We’ve revolutionized how we market movies. With Highlands Playhouse, I helped with the digital conversion and it was much like the Zebulon. With the Zebulon, it was going through an almost identity crisis because of the 35-millimeter film situation.
“Many small theaters got out of film early because film is going away and it’s limited. By the time we get the film, the movie may be ready to come out on DVD. It was killing the little guy, so to speak,” said Molton.
Molton is focusing in on getting the community involved at the Zebulon and marketing movies for everyone through more social media strategies.
He said, “In taking the Zebulon to the next level, we want to show fun and family friendly movies this summer while children are out of school, and then bring some of the Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated films back when that time comes around.
“Many times these nominated movies are already out of theaters. We want to bring them back and let the theater really shine around the holidays, etc. More sophisticated art films are something else we are looking into as well.”
The Zebulon’s digital system includes a digital projector and a new screen through Cinevision Corp.
According to Todd Butler, board member of the Regional Community Center (RCC), modifications had to be made to the projection booth. This included electrical improvements.
Since the Zebulon Theater is a historic non-profit movie theater, the staff is made up of volunteers. These volunteers are currently being trained on how to use the new digital system.
Other renovations have been made, including the cleaning and updating of the snack bar.
“We’ve been sprucing things up a bit,” said Butler.
One addition will be a new popcorn machine.
Butler added, “The Zebulon is famous for its popcorn and we are going to make sure that’s just right.”
He also said its will continue to make renovations throughout the building. Long-term goals are to improve the roof, the stage, backstage, etc.
Lequita LeGette — whose grandmother, Ethel Blanton built the theater in honor of her husband, Zebulon Blanton — is thrilled about the future of the Zebulon Theater.
She said, “The future is bright. We have some work to do, but the community is interested. I’m so glad we have the theater and I hope people will support it with their presence. We are looking forward to giving back to the community since they helped us raise money for the conversion.”
Since its opening in 1936, the Zebulon Theater has remained open with the exception of seasonal breaks. Molton, Butler, LeGette, community members and leaders all rave the Zebulon brightens Downtown Cairo — literally and figuratively.
Molton claimed there is not a much better economic catalyst than a movie theater.
“You are never going to hear someone say we are glad a movie theater closed. We are grateful to live in a community that understands why we do what we do. Give it a jump-start and it will take off,” said Molton.
Butler is hopeful about the future of the Zebulon and looks forward to people coming to see the summer blockbusters.
He said, “When the lights are on at the Zebulon it brightens everything. It’s like Broad Street suddenly becomes Broadway.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” will play Friday at 7 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.