BICKNELL – Around this time last year, it looked like Wayne County might be losing its remaining movie theater for good, but thanks to a valiant effort by one local family and a community that has earnestly pitched in to support the project, the theater is reopening and movie shows are coming back to town.
The theater, which originally opened its doors in 1948 and has run more or less continuously under several different Wayne County families and names, has just received the biggest renovation in its 67 year history, and will re-open its doors on Christmas Day as a completely upgraded and remodeled venue, and under a new name, “The Bicknell Theater.”
Wayne County residents Brian and Kalynn Brill are the theater’s proud new owners, and have worked feverishly over the past four months to do the necessary work to update the venue for modern audiences, as well as adding an eatery into the business model.
“It’s been a bigger project than I’d foreseen in the beginning, and sometimes I was scratching my head wondering, ‘What am I doing?’ But every day someone stopped in, and that just rejuvenated our excitement,” said Brian Brill.
For the Brill Family, the endeavor started rather naturally.
Tory Davis, the owner of the theater’s previous incarnation, the “Wayne Theater,” had asked Brian Brill to manage the theater for him in early 2014, just about one year before the theater closed, in January of 2015.
“The whole year he was managing it, Brian’s wheels were turning. He would come home every night and say, ‘It would be so cool if we owned it!’” said Kalynn Brill.
But it took a while to get the deal together. They started working on acquiring the building in March of 2015, and finally signed the papers in September.
Their history as a family with theaters and entertainment is likely a factor contributing to their acquisition of the business. Prior to moving to Wayne County eight years ago, both Kalynn and Brian had worked various stints as models, and as movies extras when they lived in Las Vegas. Brian still performs in a band, which he says will play at the theater some nights (live music is another facet of the new theater plan). But perhaps the most intriguing connection is that Kalynn Brill’s brother, Mark Childs, took on the even more monumental effort of renovating Panguitch’s Gem Theater in 2011, which had languished since the 1980s after being destroyed by a fire.
So you could say a passion for renovating movie theaters runs in the family, though Brian Brill says his own motivation is about doing something for the community.
“We really saw it as something that needed to be done. We need something for the community, another form of entertainment. We have restaurants and a few places for adults, but what is there for people to do? We have kids of our own and we thought maybe we need to step up to the plate and see if we can make this happen,” said Brill.
One of the larger financial challenges of pursuing the project was the need to transition the theater to a digital projector system. Over the past several years, every movie theater in the country has grappled with converting from film-reel systems to digital, which can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 for a single screen. For many mom-and-pop theaters, the outlay has been too much, leading to the closure of many hundreds of theaters throughout the country.
While Brian was preparing to face the challenge of purchasing a digital projection system—perhaps a used one–a much brighter scenario came along like an angel through the clouds.
Wayne County Economic Development Director Michelle Coleman describes what happened this way: “Because I live in Teasdale and work in Loa, I happened to notice that Brian was doing something with the theater, and I asked him what I could do to help,” said Coleman. Brian told Michelle about the theater’s need to go digital and she said she’d be on the lookout for him. Through some networking she discovered that the town of Kamas had a digital projector for their local theater that had been purchased by a USDA grant, and had been used for less than a year before the theater closed. Under that arrangement the town of Kamas owned the projector and had been leasing it to the theater owner for $1 per year.
“Since Bicknell needed a projector and Kamas City didn’t need it any more, what USDA did was they transferred the grant to the town of Bicknell,” said Coleman. “So it’s a win-win for everybody.”
So now, the Bicknell Theater will rent the digital projector from the Town of Bicknell, under the same financial arrangement, of $1 per year.
Another important source of support for the project has been the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage area, which has provided $25,000 toward the renovation. “Whatever it is they needed, they could spend it on,” said Monte Bona, director of MPNHA. The nonprofit organization has helped provide support to renovate other theaters regionally, including Panguitch’s Gem, the Casino Star in Gunnison, and the Carol Theatre in Monroe. “We’re very pleased to help keeping historic theaters alive,” said Bona.
For theater goers, what’s of greatest interest are all the renovations that have taken place inside.
“Once we got the keys, we basically came in and gutted the place, took out the seats, removed the lobby wall which was too close to the front, extended the lobby 14 feet into the theater, and then added balcony seating, said Brian Brill. “We completely redid the electrical and plumbing systems, and built a new projection booth.”
“We also went from 299 fifty year old seats to 175 ten year old seats. They’re re vinyl covered and they’re comfy,” said Brill.
Brill says their store front will be open six days a week, stressing that they will have a mini restaurant, with hot snack food, ice cream cones, shakes and sundaes, and soup in the winter. People will be allowed to take their food into the movie as well. Movie nights will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and starting in the spring they will offer live music on Wednesday. The space is also rentable for performances, birthday parties, and as a meeting hall. There will also be a game room in the front with foosball and air hockey, and outdoor patio seating in summer.
As far as the name change, from the Wayne Theater to the Bicknell Theater, Brian Brill says, “We just wanted to identify where it is, more directly than by county. It gives the town a little publicity, and lifts up the image of the main drag of Bicknell,” he said.
Despite all of the hard work, Kalynn Brill says that, “Brian is enjoying the endeavor, for sure. He is all about giving back to the community. He’s always been about ‘git er done’ and everyone knows that. He’s just continuing what he’s always done, through this.”
The Bicknell Theater will open over the Christmas holiday. You may call the theater at 435-425-3493 or check their Facebook page for movie listings and times.