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STORY AND PHOTOS BY ANNA PARKER

I In the sometimes sleepy


streets stereotypical of small
towns, downtown movie the-
aters were more than just a
building among scattered store-
It may seem a bit too poetic
to speak of a movie theater in
such terms. As if it was a per-
son. A person with outstretched
arms, luring children, couples
operational, it was alive. And,
it was as much a person in their
weekend ritual as the kids they
rode to with it from the neigh-
borhood.
fronts. They were an oasis ... a and families into its world of The movie theater business at
refuge ... welcoming hundreds, stories stained with the smell of the Haven started decades ago.
thousands over the years. And popcorn for as little as a dime. While pieces of its history are
the Haven Theater in But, when you ask still being pieced together,
Brookhaven is no exception. Brookhavenites, anyone over movie artifacts dating from
Its offerings started as silent, the age of 30, and particularly before 1920 have been recently
black and white glimpses of an over the age of 60 - they speak discovered during renovation-
outside world foreign to many of the Haven Theater with a efforts. Movies played in the
whom do not travel to often if smile as they spill memories of 1930s and up until 1977. Then,
ever from their small, sleepy a different kind of sanctuary. in 1982, the building was pur-
towns. Then, color came along They give names ... names of chased by Brookhaven Little
and brightly beckoned to an movies they saw. Names of Theatre for the purpose of
audience hungry for stories, actors. Names of the people securing a fixed home for its
characters and places. Over the they shared seats with in the otherwise traveling produc-
years, it hosted first dates, dark. Names of employees who tions.
prompted first kisses, gathered worked there from ticket takers Charles and Laverne
friends and showed film after to managers and others in Downing operated the movie
film. between. When the theater was theater from 1945 until 1977. In

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art: brookhaven’s little theatre

the years to follow, before BLT ownership so they may contin- lie that it was not in use.
bought the property, it was ue its programs and help main- To launch a new surge of
believed by some that Mr. tain the building for years to interest, attract large crowds
Downing’s spirit still occupied come. and hopefully bank thousands
the aisles, balcony and projec- After almost 20 years in the of dollars, Brookhaven Little
tion room of the theater. Even building, volunteers began to Theatre presented GREASE in
today, some volunteers believe realize the difficult and tedious May 2006. The production
he lingers. task of revitalization was neces- broke all attendance records
Since the early 1980s, sary. Walls were peeling, and presented another two,
Brookhaven Little Theatre vol- plumbing was questionable, sold out encores and started the
unteers have filled the stage lighting never did function as it SAVE THE HAVEN fund with a
with productions telling stories should and ... when it rained ... $30,000 deposit.
- a minimum of 3 per year. Four the roof had begun to leak. Sha Walker, who played a T-
years ago, they added a chil- Attendance for plays Bird in the production, was
dren’s summer production to remained less than 50 percent enchanted by the experience
not only give an audience to the capacity in many cases and the and agreed to get involved,
kids’ love for performing, but dilapidated condition of the mainly with the grant writing
to inject them with a sense of building’s front often told the process so that the crumbling
theater could secure monies for Wonderland.” rent size. New floors will be
restrengthening the building. Admission into the produc- installed throughout to build
Within a year, the roof was tions is not a dime anymore. continuity and bathrooms will
rebuilt and two years and five The theater faces hefty annual be renovated. Paint, fixtures
months after Walker took his expenses including its insur- and other touches reflective of
final bow with GREASE, on Oct ance, utilities, taxes and the the now established art deco
25 this year, he stood in front of royalties of the plays it pro- design of the building’s front
the theater and flipped the duces. The cost of a season tick- will be added.
switch to relight the neon on a et is $35, which allows admis- Once those changes are com-
refurbished HAVEN sign, mar- sion into all 4 productions. The plete, production upgrades and
quee and restored building BLT organization does not take auditorium work can begin.
front. A front that now has any season tickets sold for New seats, improved wall cov-
reopened its arms to lure granted, since that revenue erings, the restoration of seat-
Brookhavenites back into its pays for the operational expens- ing in the balcony and the
seats ... in the dark, to see sto- es for the building and its pro- installation of a curtain - once
ries, characters and places. ductions. again - to open and end per-
The new 2008-09 production Now that the roof has been formances with the appropriate
season for Brookhaven Little rebuilt (Phase 1), the building’s drama and majesty.
Theatre begins with the classic front has been restored from its When approaching the the-
American comedy “You Can’t bones to its outer skin (Phase ater’s entrance now, there is the
Take it With You” in mid 2), volunteers are moving for- promise of continued renewal
November. In February, BLT ward to the inside (Phase 3) as work continues on the
will present “London Suite” a with extensive work in the inside. It is a pristine, new
play in four acts. Then, with the lobby. A new concessions area cover on an old, aging book.
hopes of repeating the success will be built with capability for Whether a film or play, the
of GREASE, BLT will present caterer use. story has remained with many
“Wizard of OZ.” Finally, in July The two business properties similarities through the decades
2009, children attending the on both sides of the lobby will at the Haven. And, it is a story
annual Summer Drama Camp be incorporated into lobby of a place to go with others to
will present “Alice in space. almost tripling its cur- see a story unfold.

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