The Last Theatre

Nestled in the hills of the Hudson Valley is the town of Rosendale.  This seemingly sleepy town overflows with creative professionals that connect with its artsy independent vibe.  In the center of Main St. is the Rosendale Theatre, a cultural and economic hub for the town.

Before the theatre opened its doors on February 18, 1949, the building spent time both as a firehouse and an old-time casino.  Up to last August, the theatre was family-owned.  Rather than letting developers turn this cornerstone into a warehouse, townspeople stood together to keep the theatre alive.

“There are theatres in nearby towns that have gone dark,” said F-Stop Fitzgerald, photographer and executive director of the theatre.  “I decided I didn’t want that for my town and I didn’t want it to happen for my kids.”

Fitzgerald was one of the first people, of about a dozen, to talk about taking over the theatre in November, 2009.  Once the Rosendale Theatre Collective was established, he was voted chairman of the Collective only to soon be promoted to president as chairman of the board.  He then resigned from his position to become the executive director.

“It’s been a community asset, as well as a cultural center, so we wanted to pick that up,” he said.  “We’re trying to remain responsive to the community.”

Before selling, the theatre was host to many fundraisers and other events at low cost to community members.

In early March, the Theatre was awarded a $175,000 grant through the New York State Dormitory Authority to help stabilize, update and renovate the building and equipment.  Assemblyman Kevin Cahill helped the collective pursue this grant.  Given the small town setting, there are limited funds rolling through the theatre and the owners have not

been able to make all the necessary upgrades and improvements.

“By using this grant we can switch to digital projection, we can switch to Dolby surround sound and we can make the concession area more affective,” said Fitzgerald.  “There’s no insulation in the building, so we can work on getting some green solutions in terms of that too.”

A palace it is not, but locals wouldn’t trade its dodgy ceilings for anything else.  For the community, it’s charming enough.

Not long ago, a movie was $2.50 and even in 2011, you won’t break the bank for a fun day and a good movie in Rosendale.  Suzy Jeffers, a local of 23 years, favors the self-serve popcorn and the old candy machines.

“[The Theatre] has become a fabulous cornerstone of the town culture,” said Suzy Jeffers, director of photography at Ulster County Community College. “It brings people out into town so it really helps support local businesses.  It’s a community-meeting place.”

These are the reasons Fitzgerald and colleagues were so eager to save the theatre from closing.  Now old hat, the Collective pursues grants on a regular basis ranging from $200 to this most recent $175,000.  In deciding how to fund raise and pay for the theatre, the Collective decided to apply for and use the money they received from a Pepsi Challenge Grant for the down payment on a mortgage.  A social media competition, the theatre finished first in the nation to receive the grant based on public voting. The Collective began upgrading the theatre soon after purchase last summer.

Upon learning about the Collective and its plan to purchase the theatre, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, an area native, jumped on board.  He and his office have worked with the theatre for years and were involved with its prior owners.

“The key to this and understanding the Rosendale Theatre is it is a keystone business,” said Tom Hoffay, Alderman for ward two in Kingston, who works closely with grants in the office of Assemblyman Cahill.  “It is a cornerstone upon which the rest of the block is built.”

Hoffay explained that when the doors to the Rosendale Theatre are open, businesses thrive.  Patrons eat at local establishments and wander Main St. for treats of all kinds.  It serves an economic development function as well as a cultural one.

“The assemblyman thinks the theatre is a very important part of that area of Ulster County,” said Hoffay.  “We are committed to its success.”

Rosendale is home to an interesting mix of people who appreciate the independent local businesses and do all they can

to support their growth.

“It’s an interesting mix of creative types,” said Fitzgerald.  “There are actors, writers, musicians.  All kinds of people doing what they can to make it work.”

The Collective sees a future in which the programming continues to become more sophisticated.  They hope to include more programming for children, musical performances and establish connections with local colleges for dance, film and other creative purposes.

“The ceiling is in bad shape and the bathrooms could be better,” said Jeffers.  “But there’s just a great nostalgia quotient that makes us all feel really special.”




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Kate Blessing

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