Sara Scully, the new executive director of the Hopewell Theater, is widening the performance venue’s range of offerings in both entertainment and food. Formerly known as the Off-Broadstreet Theater, the space was a dessert theater, where owners Bob and Julie Thick produced plays.
The Thicks sold the Greenwood Avenue theater in 2013, and the new owners renovated the space, preparing it for an expanded range of performance. The Thicks continued to produce shows there under the new ownership, but on December 31 they capped a 32-year career and gave their last performance, finishing their run with the show “Altar Boyz.”
Now,Scully hopes to bring independent films, TED talk-like lectures, musicals, plays, concerts, readings, and other programming to the venue.
“What’s unique about this is that it really is an intimate space,” Scully says. “We really intend to capitalize on the warmth and intimacy of the space to allow new performance mediums in the theater that haven’t been there before.”
In a way, showing films at the theater will be bringing the venue back to its roots. The current structure was built in 1940 as the Colonial Playhouse. An earlier building on the same site was called Colombia Hall and served as a firehouse, dance floor, motorcycle repair shop, and movie theater. In the 1960s the Colonial Playhouse was purchased by George Gallup Jr., who used the building as a polling site where audiences would be shown movies and commercials, and pollsters would gauge their reactions. In 1984 the Thicks bought the theater, renaming it “Off-Broadstreet.”
In 2013 Jon McConaughy, Liza Moorehouse, and Mitchel Skolnick bought the theater and closed it for a year to make extensive renovations. The new owners improved the sound and lighting for the building. They also remodeled the lobby, added balcony seating. Further improvements including banquette seating where theatergoers can comfortably eat a meal, and built-in fixed tables are planned. The theater now can accommodate 236.
When the theater reopens it will boast a complete concession stand with traditional movie snacks like popcorn and candy in addition to appetizers. Scully says there will also be “supper club” nights with full meals served by a caterer.
“It was a movie theater once, and it’s nice to bring it back there,” Scully says.
Scully is managing the theater through her company, ScullyOne Productions. She says the new business model of the Hopewell Theater is based on dinner theaters she has seen in her travels to the Pacific Northwest, where arthouse/alehouse combos have sprung up all over the place.
The Hopewell Theater is BYOB, but Scully thinks it can capture the spirit of the intimate, community-oriented spaces that she has seen gain success. “It’s such a rich, fun kind of hangout where you can watch a movie or catch a band and have something to eat in these really warm, welcoming spaces,” she says.
Scully says that when she saw the semi-historical Hopewell Theater building being renovated, she saw an opportunity to bring something similar to the area. “This is a way to inspire people to come out of their homes and come together and build community around food, film, performing arts, and live music.”
A New Hope native, Scully is best known locally as the founder of the ACME Screening Room, an independent cinema in Lambertville that often hosts filmmakers who give talks after screenings of their movies. Before that, Scully was in documentary and children’s education and film production.
“Being a woman business owner in this field is kind of unusual,” she says, but women breaking into male-dominated professions is nothing new for her family. Her mother was a pilot, and her father was a doctor.
As for Bob and Julie Thick, the erstwhile theater owners are not taking their leave of the stage. While The Off-Broadstreet Production Company will continue life as a traveling troupe. For more information, visit www.off-broadstreet.com.
Hopewell Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Box 359, Hopewell 08525. (609) 466-2766. Sara Scully, executive director. hopewelltheater.com.