By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
This autumn’s been a tough one for operators of historic local theaters, and their fans.
That made us wonder how West Seattle’s historic Admiral Theater is doing, two and a half years after its last management change. So we arranged a chat with the woman who runs it, Dinah Brein. She was on duty last night, helping run the night’s films, and getting ready for a special New Year’s Eve-themed holiday double bill tonight: “Holiday” at 7, “When Harry Met Sally” at 9.
Just as we headed her way, Dinah sent a link to another theater-closure story that had just appeared online, this time the Orchard Theater in Port Orchard. And with a close-to-home twist – it’s part of the Far Away Entertainment theater group run by her brother Jeff Brein, which also includes The Admiral.
No, they’re NOT throwing in the towel here too. But some of what was on that theater’s wish list remains on The Admiral’s wish list too.
A big wish: More, and more-consistent, community support: “You need to have the community show up,” says Dinah.
In Dinah’s first year with The Admiral, her role was mostly to explore other types of events, broaden it beyond a second-run moviehouse. And if you scroll through WSB archives, you’ll see some of those events noted, from the Frances Farmer history retrospective to the Pete Seeger retrospective to a series of live music shows, and more.
But overall, Dinah say, the alternative offerings weren’t embraced by enough people to be ongoing and viable. “A small group of people” really loved the performances, but that just wasn’t enough.
(June 2009, Dinah helps kick off SIFF’s debut at The Admiral; photo by Christopher Boffoli)
She’s proud of The Admiral’s repeat participation in two major local film festivals, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (SLGFF). If the people who turned out for those movies would come to The Admiral more often, Dinah says, “we could do a lot of stuff.”
And if you say “well, if the theater was in better shape, I’d come more often” – Dinah understands. Every time she walks upstairs to the offices and the projection area, on stairs with carpet worn to a threadbare hole in some spots, she understands. They have long been trying to get money for renovations. The banks are still keeping a tight rein on money. Grants are ferociously competitive – they applied for a local one and didn’t even get that.
As for upgrading the business to bring in more money, Dinah says they would love to go first-run, but the theater has to be in better shape.
So in the meantime – they move forward. On the bright side, according to Dinah, they get movies faster now – not as much of a lag between the first run and the second run. She’s also working with distributors to get movies that have sparked discussion by taking on issues, in the vein of last winter’s “>Waiting for Superman,” a look inside the education system.
And some special events besides SIFF and SLGFF are a big draw. Last week, she says, the house was packed for the special “free Christmas movie” – which piled up donations for the Seattle Humane Society. She has a soft spot for helping people, and The Admiral has hosted multiple benefits.
Those benefits also are emblematic of something she says you get from The Admiral that you wouldn’t get from some chain theater coming to town: Local management, open to your ideas and feedback. She has a 1,000-member mailing list and a Facebook page, as just two of the ways The Admiral shares information and engages with the community. The regular website has been a little tougher to conquer – she tried to maintain a unique site at thehistoricadmiraltheater.com but has had some difficulties with updating its content, so right now, the main website for The Admiral is through Far Away Entertainment (it’s here).
The theater is also available for rentals. Sub Pop Records celebrated its 22nd anniversary there earlier this year (here’s a video clip). And personal events are welcome: “I would love to have people think of this place for weddings, for example,” she smiles.
So her hopes for The Admiral, for the new year, are simple yet not-so-simple – “That the recession will get better, that loans will get approved,” that those long-desired renovations can finally be made.
And our conversation ends as she tackles some of the jane-of-all-trades tasks that have fallen to her, to keep The Admiral running night after night – dealing with the “platters” that spin the heavy reels of 35-millimeter film feeding into the projectors. Historic theater means almost-historic equipment in some cases. They’re not nearly as old as The Admiral itself (almost 68 years, and its site had held a theater dating back more than 20 years before that), but they’re surprising to see, in this era where so much has gone small and digital.
In the showbiz tradition, the show must go on. As long as somebody shows up … and that’s where you come in. (Tonight, by the way, if you go see both New Year’s Eve movies, there’s a discount – tickets are $5.50 for one movie as usual, but $10 for both.)