The New York Times
Monday April 19, 2010
Late Edition – Final/Metropolitan Desk; OUR TOWNS; Pg. 17
Theater Theory: Restoring Downtown Bijou Is Sign of a Cool Place
By PETER APPLEBOME. E-mail: peappl
Does the world need the Rosendale Theater, a creaky, tin-ceilinged, century-old, single-screen movie theater that was once a vaudeville parlor, casino and gathering hall in a tiny rural cement town? Probably not.
But a fair number of people definitely seem to want it. Hence the blend of spontaneous combustion and brilliant calculation that’s likely to keep the theater going long after the myriad things that could have killed it — television, on-demand cable, VCRs, DVDs, Netflix, Redbox, etc. — have come and often gone.
Rosendale, population 6,400 or so over its 20 square miles, is what Woodstock, the town 18 miles away, would have been if there had been no Woodstock the concert.
Instead of an aggressively quaint place with businesses like Ye Olde Hippie Shoppe and Westchester-priced real estate, it’s got that exurban artsy thing going without much brand management. You can’t beat the Gouda or the Wensleydale with ginger at Big Cheese.
Musicians like the great jazz bassist Ron Carter or the classic rocker Graham Parker play at the vegetarianRosendale Cafe without much fanfare, and A-list actors show up at Market Market. When the Vision of Tibet store, a longtime fixture in Greenwich Village, lost its lease after 20 years, it moved last year to Rosendale.
People tend to have hyphenated job descriptions; say, contractor-massage therapist-sculptor-bassist for men or landscaper-vegan chef-painter-doula for women. A nice house can go for $250,000. Fashionable mom-wear around town is a ”Rosendale Rocks” T-shirt with mismatched peace sign pajama bottoms. And then there’s the Rosendale Theater.
One of the best barometers of whether a small town has a pulse is the old downtown movie house. If it has been knocked down, boarded up or turned into a porno place, the omens are not good. If it is hanging in there, that’s promising. If it’s been refurbished or somehow morphed into a beloved institution, chances are the town is just fine. The Rosendale Theater is definitely behind Door No. 3.
Like the semi-shabby downtown, the 296-seat theater with the plain-brick facade, ancient candy machines and honor-system popcorn isn’t much to look at. It opened as a movie theater in 1949 (first film, the Western ”Blood on the Moon” with Robert Mitchum), and the Cacchio family has owned it ever since. They’ve changed with the times, so that it’s now essentially an art house showing indie films, often with a progressive bent, plus local music or theater.
This was all well and good until Rocco Cacchio, the son of the founder and the father of Michael Cacchio, who runs it now, died in 2008, forcing the family to confront its own mortality and that of a business that, however beloved, was struggling to break even. They decided to put it up for sale, soon attracting interest from developers likely to turn it into apartments or anything more lucrative than a single-screen theater.
And almost immediately, as if by osmosis, the idea rose for the Rosendale Theater Collective to take it over and run it as a nonprofit institution. This was not startling. Such things exist. But they don’t necessarily exist in a rural town of 6,400 where $380,000 is needed to buy the local theater and perhaps $600,000 to fully restore and upgrade it. Nor do they necessarily work with an arty collective some of whose members have names like Fre Atlast and f-stop Fitzgerald.
But then, local characters aside, the collective also had lots of high-powered friends and advisers — performers like Aidan Quinn, Mandy Patinkin and Melissa Leo; heads of regional performing arts centers; local businesses. And Rosendale turns out to be a lot less sleepy than it looks.
”You first come here and think it’s a ghost town,” said Eve Waltermaurer, a sociology professor at the State University College at New Paltz and a member of the collective’s board of directors. ”But the longer you stay, the more you realize what an intricate, elaborate environment it is, with so many creative people. It’s like they’re hiding in the cracks in the woodwork, but when there’s a cause, it’s like they come pouring out of their homes to work on it.”
And so began fund-raisers and events galore, first at the annual pickle festival, then assorted theater and arts gatherings and online auctions. Through compulsive social networking and disciplined daily clicking at a site for online grants from Pepsi-Cola, the collective is near the top of contenders for a $50,000 grant that would put it within reach of the $160,000 needed for the down payment.
Everyone in town, both the art and culture crowd and the older, more conservative folks who remember the theater from way back when, is on the same page. Michael Cacchio and his Uncle Tony, known to all as Uncle Tony, would stay on to help with the new incarnation. It’s not ending global warming or saving the planet, but better small victories these days than none at all.