April 25, 2018

New Look, New Format, and New Design Celebrate Hopewell Theater’s Reopening

ECLECTIC ENTERTAINMENT: “It’s not enough to give people a cultural experience, you need to give them a place where they want to be. People are eager to have that experience, to come together, and meet others.” Sara Scully, executive director of Hopewell Theater, is shown in the first floor of the newly renovated theater.

By Jean Stratton

The curtain has gone up once again at the Hopewell Theater. Newly renovated, it reopened last September, and offers a revised eclectic entertainment format, including live music, first-run independent films, multi-media events, talks with performers, and dine-in opportunities.

Located at 5 South Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell, the theater has a long and varied history, dating to 1880. Originally known as Columbia Hall, it served as a community center with a lyceum-style theater, and hosted lectures, performers, and films on its second floor until 1939. The first floor was used for community groups, the fire department, and Borough Council meetings.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, it became known as the Colonial Playhouse, and underwent an extensive renovation. Throughout the 1950s, it was a movie theater.

A complete change in operation occurred in 1960, when the building was purchased by George Gallup, CEO of the locally-based Gallup Poll Group. It was used to conduct public polling until 1984. At that time, it reverted to its original theatrical purpose. Bob and Julie Thick purchased the building, and re-modified the interior to support the Off-Broadstreet Theatre, a dessert theater, featuring live stage productions and children’s shows.

In 2015, the building was sold to new owners, including Mitchel Skolnick. Once again, it was renovated, undergoing substantial changes. The ceiling was raised, a balcony added, and seating expanded to accommodate 176 people. In addition, a state-of-the-art sound and light system was installed, as well as a new kitchen.

It has become very much a part of today’s world: a live, updated performance stage; an indie cinema showcase and thematic entertainment center, with interactive
Q&A and conversations; and dine-in Supper Club, as well as small plate options and a new concession stand.

Executive Director Sara Scully has been very much a part of the evolution of the new Hopewell Theater. Formerly the founder and director of the ACME Screening Room in Lambertville, which focused on indie cinema programming, she had also previously worked in documentary films in New York.

She and Mitchel Skolnick have become partners in the production company for the theater, and Scully created a business plan for the new operation.

“This involved a redesign and renovation of the theater, marketing, and brand,” she explains. “I had a vision for the space and what it would look like. This included mixed seating, with fixed theater seating, banquette seating in the balcony, and also separate tables.”

The dining options have also been expanded, she points out. “We have our special occasion Supper Club, with a served three-course dinner before the show, and small plates and desserts at the concession stand, as well as traditional movie favorites, such as popcorn, candy, and soft drinks.”

The blend of entertainment has been very popular, she adds. “Movies are shown all the time, and we have attractions, including multi-media events, once or twice each month.”

She is especially enthusiastic about two upcoming programs, The Art of Living Well and Family Fun Concerts.

The Art of Living Well series features inspiring films, speakers, and interactive discussions, exploring ways of cultivating serenity, meaning, and a connection to one’s self and the world, explains Scully.

“This series will give audiences a chance to delve deep into discovering what it means to fully embrace life and cultivate a sense of serenity from a variety of perspectives. From mindfulness to engaged citizenship to medicine, the series explores many avenues for awakening to the best in the human spirit.”

The programs will continue through August 16, and will include such topics as “In Pursuit of Silence”, “The Doctor From India”, and “Lives Well Lived”, among others.

On June 27, “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life” will feature Dr. Marilee Adams speaking on thoughtful citizenship. This event will also celebrate Judy Detrano, organizer of Wednesdays For Women at Hamilton’s Grill Room, a weekly program highlighting the work of women entrepreneurs, artists, and activists.

“A lot of people are searching for meaning and finding a way to relax,” says Scully. “We wanted to create a series that would speak to people about this and explore different opportunities and ways to participate and have a meaningful experience.”

Family Fun Concerts offer performances for children, from toddlers and up, and include award-winning bands. Upcoming performances will feature award-winning Gustafer Yellowgold and others.

Gustafer’s show is a multi-media performance of live music, colored-pencil animations, and storytelling. He has appeared off-Broadway in his own productions of Gustafer Yellowgold’s Mellow Sensation and Gustafer Yellowgold’s Infinity Sock. “Mint Green Bee” from Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wide World was a Grand Prize Winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

The Family Fun Concerts continue with Lucy Kalantari & The Jazz Cats on June 9. The award-winning children’s artist creates jazz age-inspired music for families. Her hit song “Fantastic” from her album Big Things won the International Music Award for Best Children’s Song. She has performed in festivals and libraries around the country.

Grammy-nominated artist Billy Kelly will perform in the Family Fun Concerts on July 14. He has been entertaining kids and adults with his quirky songs and “squeaky clean” stand-up comedy since 2009. He brings his jokes and songs about trees, milk, and cardboard boxes for a new solo, acoustic, family-friendly show “that will have children laughing hard and parents laughing harder” reported the Boston Globe.

The Family Fun Concerts $20 ticket price includes a $5 voucher for the concession stand for lunch. The shows begin at noon. Other live performances range from $20 to $50, and movies are $12.50.

The theater offers performances Thursday through Sunday, with movies available every evening except when there are live performances. Live music shows are held once or twice a week.

“We are very encouraged,” reports Sara Scully. “We have been sold out for live performances, and we have many regulars and repeats. We look forward to building an audience and providing great entertainment, great films, and great music.

Tickets are available at the box office, and in addition, theater membership packages are offered. These provide free movie tickets, free popcorn, 10 percent discounts on small plates and desserts, invitations to special events, and first word on select shows and events.

For further information, call (609) 466-1964, or consult the website at www.hopewelltheater.com.