Keeping the lights on
Pageant turns to fans to raise funds for new projector
When Pageant Theatre managing partner Tim Giusta realized he needed to come up with $50,000 to keep his business going, his first inclination was to close up shop.
“I was 65, I’d been doing it for 34 years, so maybe it was time,” he said during a recent interview at the downtown art house. But when he told some of his regular patrons about it, they were adamant: You can’t close the Pageant, they told him. It’s too important a part of Chico.
The money was needed to buy a new digital projector. After more than a century using film, the film industry is going digital. Distributors have given theaters until Dec. 31 to replace their old film projectors with digital machines. It’s either “go digital or go dark,” Giusta said.
The multiplexes already have made the transition; it’s the small independents like the Pageant that are struggling. Giusta said the National Association of Theatre Owners estimates that 10,000 screens will go dark because owners can’t afford the new projectors.
If so, and if most of these theaters are like the Pageant, the loss will be huge. Giusta estimates that over the years he’s shown around 3,000 movies, and that “well more than half of them” would not have been shown locally had the Pageant not existed. The same is no doubt true in other cities.
You won’t see many blockbuster movies at the Pageant. As Giusta’s partner, Roger Montalbano, told the CN&R in 2005, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, the Pageant’s reputation is “as an art house, a place where you [can] see something that [is] intellectually stimulating and not merely something involving car crashes and people blowing each other’s brains out.”
And Pageant regulars are like family. They tend to know each other, especially those who show up each week on “Cheapskate Mondays,” when the cost of admission, already low by multiplex standards, is reduced significantly (to $3) and the house is usually packed.
It’s little wonder, then, that when Giusta talked about going dark, people started asking how the Pageant could be saved.
Giusta contacted the owners of Bijou Art Cinemas, in Eugene, Ore. He learned they had started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter (which was a success). Aware that The Bookstore, in downtown Chico, had raised more than $30,000 through fundraisers and the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com, he decided to give it a shot.
The Pageant’s Indiegogo campaign launched on Nov. 8, and in its first week raised $22,000. With a month and a half still to go as of Nov. 15, Giusta was fairly confident the goal would be met. Money has come in from all over, even as far away as Italy, he said, which tells him that “people have great memories of the Pageant.”
He and Montalbano are also hosting a benefit concert Dec. 11 at the Arc Pavilion featuring The Yule Logs and Jonathan Richman, he of The Modern Lovers and There’s Something About Mary fame. (Richman also happens to be Montalbano’s son-in-law.)
Giusta says he’s looking forward to the new projector, that it will make his job as the theater’s manager much easier. As it is, the 35mm films arrive in six to eight reels. Because the theater has only one projector, he must splice the film together and load it onto much larger reels, so that he needs to change reels only once during a screening. If you wondered why every movie has an intermission, now you know.
Assuming his fundraising is successful, Giusta plans to “stick around for a while.” He’s proud of bringing so much great art to Chico and of the special bond the Pageant has with its fans, and he knows the new projector will make their movie-going even better.
“I never got rich,” he said, “but I got by, and I was able to stay in Chico. I’ve had a lot of great experiences here.”