After 10 years of saving money, two years of planning and nine months of renovation, the Old Greenbelt Theatre is ready for showtime.
The more-than-75-year-old single-screen movie theater near Crescent Road in Greenbelt will reopen to the public as a nonprofit theater later this month. Caitlin McGrath, a university English professor who is now the theater’s executive director, said the theater could offer special events and screenings as well as internships for students.
Though it had long been underperforming and had been closed for the last nine months, McGrath said she thought that with enough support, the location could become a community staple.
“It felt like a really good fit where I could use my strengths as a film academic and connections in that world, and also with the community on this campus to breathe new life into the theater,” she said.
The theater will continue to screen mainstream movies at night, but it will now hold events, film series and special screenings for the first time, McGrath said. For example, she hopes to start by showing Oscar-nominated movies and other notable films from the nine months during which the theater was closed for renovation.
McGrath said she hopes the theater becomes a cinematic hub for the university, as students can easily reach it via the 130 Greenbelt Shuttle-UM route.
“It’s another cultural experience that we’re offering to the community and to get the students to go beyond the College Park borders a little bit,” she said. “It’s something students were not taking advantage of as much as they should, and we’re hoping this is a way to bring them to Greenbelt.”
McGrath will also offer film class-related screenings or host other academic events at the theater. She is already working with the film department and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and she said she will provide film exhibition internships to students.
While Clarice officials said it was too early to release event details, the film department hopes to host the first event at the theater later this semester or early in the fall semester, said Brian Real, a graduate assistant for the film studies department. The department hopes to screen a silent film with local band Boister providing live accompaniment to the film’s score.
While this university has the Hoff Theater in Stamp Student Union, the department must rent out the theater, which is expensive — $730 for a full day or $440 for a half-day — and usually can only be done once or twice a semester, he said. The new space means more events, and screening rarer films, Real said, thanks to an easier, more sophisticated projection method at Greenbelt.
“For Greenbelt, the thing is, we’ll be able to get things from archives, places like the Library of Congress and so on, and show stuff that is extremely hard to see,” Real said. “And they will be able to show good prints of it without actually damaging them. Hoff cannot do this.”
Greenbelt’s nonprofit approach is new for the area, but has quickly become a popular and successful way to support independent, smaller theaters, McGrath said. The Senator Theatre in Baltimore is also a nonprofit.
The Greenbelt City Council voted unanimously for McGrath’s plan in December during a meeting about the theater. McGrath formed her plan after attending several conferences on the topic and talking to other single-screen theater owners.
“It almost sounded too good to be true, but once I backed it up with evidence and research and showed [the city council], ‘Look, there were all these other people doing it,’ they were willing to take that leap,” she said.
Being a nonprofit also means the theater can apply for grants, McGrath said, but it will still depend on ticket sales and concessions.
McGrath’s nonprofit model made the plan very appealing, Greenbelt City Councilwoman Leta Mach said. The council heard other plans for the theater, but McGrath’s put community and education first.
“When I think about the theater business, I think it’s difficult to survive without something extra,” Mach said. “This way gives the theater what it needs to be the most successful.”
The theater has been in operation since 1938, when Eleanor Roosevelt helped spearhead the project as part of the New Deal, McGrath said. Recently, the city spent $1.2 million to renovate the theater’s concession stand, fully digitize the screens, install the 35mm projector and provide basic systematic updates to the theater, she said.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of the photo caption incorrectly listed Caitlin McGrath as the owner of the Greenbelt Theatre. She is the executive director. The caption has been updated.