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A Vintage venture

17-year-old Conor O’Brien raises the curtain on The Vintage Theater, Scranton’s newest all-ages art space

The Ritz Theater in Scranton may have stopped showing movies long ago, but within its former home, the silver screen will soon shine again — in the form of a neutrally colored wall at The Vintage Theater.

The theater, housed in an unsuspecting room on the first floor, is more than just a room in which to show movies — it’s a veritable art space. Upcoming events at the city’s newest all-ages venue include bands, art exhibits, improv, stand-up and theater productions, and it will have weekly showings of classic films.

“After the closing of [all-ages venue] Test Pattern, I really felt that there was a need for a strong, secure downtown community art space that provided all different art forms, both amateur and professional, at an affordable price,” said Conor O’Brien, The Vintage Theater’s executive director. “We have a lot of wonderful artists and art organizations, but to be perfectly honest, none of them have found that right balance of quality and price. My goal is to become that balance.”

An inspiring target for any business owner, but even more impressive is the fact that O’Brien is a 17-year-old junior at Scranton High School.

Though the nonprofit Vintage Theater has already featured local bands, two improv groups and a Nintendo tournament, it will hold its grand opening celebration this weekend Jan. 16-18 with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps.” The 1935 thriller stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll and is the first of the legendary director’s films to be based upon the idea of an innocent man on the run.

Asked why he wanted to focus on films from long before he was born, the teen’s answer was simple.

“Because Scranton has never had anything like this,” he said. “I was raised in a household where it was taught that just because something’s old doesn’t put down its value.”

To the best of O’Brien’s knowledge, The Vintage Theater is the only revival movie theater in Lackawanna County and possibly this section of the state. He plans to dedicate 70 percent of each month to movies.

“There was a need [for the theater] — there’s so many great movies that people have never seen on a big screen,” O’Brien said, pausing to look at the wall on which the films will be projected. “Well, bigger at least,” he corrected himself with a chuckle. “I’m trying to return theater in Scranton to what it originally was. It was not megaplexes. It was not red-tape corporate Americana. It was being with other people genuinely interested in the art and the entertainment itself. And just being able to see the reactions of one another, enjoy each other’s company in a comfortable, warm atmosphere.”

O’Brien’s favorite actor is Gregory Peck, and his favorite director is Hitchcock, hence kicking off the theater’s movie screenings with one of his films. “The 39 Steps” is a Netflix rental, but O’Brien also plans to use the Scranton Public Library to procure his films.

“We’ll be showing films from no cost or affordable sources,” he explained. “This way, we won’t have to up the ticket prices.”

Deeply rooted

O’Brien hopes that The Vintage Theater will become a home to the area’s many improv and theater groups, comedians, bands and artists who need a facility.

“The city needs a secure, one-stop affordable community space,” he said, adding that the theater will split proceeds with guest performers.

Though he thinks local galleries and theater companies do good jobs, O’Brien feels that some of their events or productions can be pricey, and especially right now, it might be hard for someone to shell out $12 per family member.

“I think that providing affordable entertainment, you’re not only stimulating the arts, you’re stimulating the entire Scranton economy. They’ll go to the restaurants, they’ll go to the shops,” he said.

O’Brien is very community-minded: He plans to bring in lower-income children to introduce them to the arts. Also, The Vintage Theater has partnered with First Friday, Electric City Renaissance, Scranton Tomorrow, The Community Film Project, The Electric Theater Company and Ruthless Zine to promote a thriving downtown.

The theater is looking for volunteer staff, as well as other art groups, artists and downtown businesses to partner with. “That’s the nice thing — there’s a lot of room to grow,” he said, adding that one of the primary goals of the theater is to become part of Scranton’s monthly First Friday event.

When the theater was in its planning stages last May, O’Brien sold $5 store coupons as part of the Bon Ton Community Day sale and held two shows to raise funds. While all three contributed to the theater’s fruition, the bulk of funds came from his family, who sit on the theater’s board.

“They’ve been so supportive,” O’Brien said.

In addition to The Vintage Theater, O’Brien has done community and regional theater and local independent film work, but names his spirituality as his main interest.

“I take my faith very seriously,” said the Jehovah’s Witness. “Everything you see here will be family-oriented. Though we don’t believe in censoring, we just feel you need to know your audience. At any time there can be someone from 5 years old to 80 in the audience, so you need to be cautious about what you allow to be performed, but at the same time you want freedom of expression.”

Looking forward

Its space may be limited — capacity is 50-60 sitting, 70-80 standing — but The Vintage Theater’s calendar is not. Its Web site ( www.scrantonsvintagetheater.com) already boasts events through February.

Further into the future, O’Brien hopes to stay local for college to be close to friends and family and his Vintage venture, but right now, he just wants to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

“I do see it growing, and most likely growing out of this location,” he said. “But I’m really happy with where we are currently and trying to keep it in the moment.”

Especially when that moment is during a time when the economy is on everyone’s mind. O’Brien wants to show that there is a way to experience the arts affordably — and approachably.

“There’s nothing intimidating about this,” he said, gesturing to The Vintage Theater’s space, “nothing unreachable. I want it to be something tangible. I’m a 17-year-old kid in high school — there’s nothing intimidating about me whatsoever. Come in, stop down, drop us a line. This is Scranton’s community theater, and I don’t take that title lightly.”

FUTURE EVENTS AT THE VINTAGE THEATER

• The Vintage Theater’s grand opening, featuring the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The 39 Steps:” Jan. 16-18, Fri./Sat., 7 p.m., Sat./Sun., 3 p.m. $5 evening, $3 matinee.

• The romantic classic “Random Harvest:” Jan. 23-25, Fri./Sat., 7 p.m., Sat./Sun., 3 p.m. $5 evening, $3 matinee.

• The campy Roy Rogers western “My Pal Trigger:” Jan. 30-Feb. 1, Fri./Sat., 7 p.m., Sat./Sun., 3 p.m. $5 evening, $3 matinee.

• The Photography of Matt Artz and Jess Confer: Feb. 6, 5 p.m.

• The dark comedy “Little Shop of Horrors:” Feb. 7-8, Fri./Sat., 7 p.m., Sat./Sun., 3 p.m. $5 evening, $3 matinee.

• Steamtown Improv, Here We Are In Spain and Rare Bird Show: Feb. 13. Steamtown Improv and Rare Bird Show at 7 p.m., Here We Are In Spain and Rare Bird Show at 9 p.m. $7.

• Donny Kirschner and Satellite band show: Feb. 14, 7 p.m., $5

• To reserve/pre-order tickets, e-mail your name, number, and amount of tickets needed to Boxoffice@ScrantonsVintageTheater.com.

• The Vintage Theater is located on the first floor of The Ritz Building at 222 Wyoming Ave., Scranton. Info: www.scrantonsvintagetheater.com, 570.561.9546.

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