Local theater seeks to expand offerings

MIDDLEBURY — Bill Shafer has mapped out some ambitious plans to expand use of the Marquis Theater, but the scope of those plans will largely hinge on his ability to leverage money from some major motion picture studios.

The Marquis Theater in downtown Middlebury currently includes three screens, one of which is served by a state-of-the-art digital projector system. That system, Shafer explained, cost $75,000 — a needed investment to keep up with technological advances in the movie industry, but an expense that is proving tough for a small theater to absorb.

In an effort to recoup that investment, Shafer has applied for reimbursement through the “Virtual Print Fees” program. It is a program through which movie distributors pay a fee to the theater for every digital movie copy they provide for viewing. The fee is subsidized through savings the distributors are realizing by not having to produce, handle and send more costly celluloid film copies.

“It costs (the studios) more than $1,500 to produce film on print, versus a couple hundred dollars through digital film,” said Shafer, who has owned the Marquis since 2006.

Shafer has completed his application for funding, and expects to hear back about his eligibility before the end of the year. He is optimistic he will qualify. If he does, he plans to reinvest the funds into the theater, beginning with the purchase of additional digital projection equipment. He said he would also seek to install a kitchen in the Marquis Theater to expand concession offerings.

But if Shafer’s application for Virtual Print Fees is rejected, he said he will seek to gut one of the three movie venues and transform it into a restaurant.

“Plans are very conceptual at this point,” Shafer said, adding he will also solicit investors to help put his plans into motion.

“A key to this is getting the right people involved.”

Regardless of Virtual Print Fees funding, Shafer plans to expand the entertainment options within the Marquis Theater. He wants to open the facility to such events as live music concerts; parties; the screening of foreign language films preceded by meals featuring ethnic food; the screening of live sports events on the big screen, including NASCAR and Red Sox games; stand-up comedy; and interactive video games.

He cited the Big Picture Theater and Café in Waitsfield as an example of a small community enterprise that has successfully transitioned from merely screening movies to a diverse business plan including live music, drama performances, art shows, food banquets, education programs and even tai chi/meditation classes.

Shafer, who has worked behind the scenes at the Big Picture, believes the Marquis has similar potential. The Marquis Theater sells about 40,000 movie tickets per year and is open during afternoon and evening hours.

“My desire is to be open all day, every day,” Shafer said.

“Our building is in a great location and we have parking,” he said, referring to the town lot behind Ilsley Public Library.

Shafer has presented his plans in more detail at his Website, www.middtownarts.com.

“I have some ideas,” Shafer said. “I am starting the engine here, and we’ll see where all this goes.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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Addison County Independent