December 20, 2014

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Oberlin’s Apollo celebrates gala premiere

OBERLIN — A refurbished, buffed and glowing marquee announced the official reopening Friday of an Oberlin institution.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the final phase of the $6 million renovation of the historic Apollo Theatre in downtown Oberlin into a multipurpose media education center for all members of the Oberlin community.

“It’s a monumental moment — our beloved, historic, beautiful Apollo is back,” said Rian Brown-Orso, associate professor in the cinema studies program at Oberlin College and co-director of the Apollo Outreach Initiative. “I’ve always thought about this as a lighthouse — that glowing marquee that was absent for a while is back and will bring people from hopefully far and wide to watch films downstairs and make films upstairs.”

Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme and Emmy Award-winning actress Rhea Perlman joined Oberlin College faculty, students, staff and trustees in celebrating the completion of the second of the two-stage, two-year process.

“Looking at the Apollo now, and what it means to the college and the community, this is really a space for education and for creating art,” said Sean Decatur, dean of arts and sciences at Oberlin College. “A place where many are going to be able to come and find inspiration.”

The Apollo, which will turn 100 next year, screened its first film in 1913.

“This is like a Frankenstein in reverse,” Demme said of the renovation. “It’s like watching this amazing transformation into something truly remarkable.”

The renovation expanded the commercial theater into a cinematic space with a three-pronged goal: to host educational facilities and equipment for cinema studies students at Oberlin College; to give a home to the Apollo Outreach Initiative, a town-grown children’s media literacy initiative; and to revamp the look of the commercial theater.

The new facility hosts two screening rooms — one seating 411, and a second, smaller theater seating 61.

College Properties of Oberlin College, a subsidiary of the school, purchased the Apollo in 2009 from the Steels family, who had owned the theater since 1928. That year the college hired Cleveland Cinemas, which owns eight other theaters, to operate and manage the venue.

“We know how important the Apollo is to this community,” said Ken Young, director of operations at Cleveland Cinemas. “And this is really a state-of-the-art facility.”

In addition to the two viewing spaces, the upstairs of the Apollo includes a new classroom and media lab for college cinema students complete with an isolated sound-recording booth and a green screen.

The downstairs will host the offices and workshop rooms of the Apollo Outreach Initiative, which will allow college students and young students in the public schools to collaborate on projects in a central location, its supporters say.

Funding for the purchase and renovation of the Apollo complex was provided by Oberlin alumni, friends of the college and community members. The Friends of the Apollo was organized to support the second phase of renovation, and its steering committee includes husband-and-wife actors Perlman and Danny DeVito and Demme, whose children have attended the college.

The renovation project received an additional $2 million historic preservation tax credit award from Ohio.

The opening brought together a community of supporters from as close as around the block, and as far away as Los Angeles. Perlman, for her part, had one wish for the community.

“I hope you enjoy years and years here making movies,” she said.

The reopening will include free showings and activities open to the public through the weekend. Tours of the new theater begin at noon today.

Contact Emily Kennedy at 329-7243 or at ekennedy@chroniclet.com.