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It’s official: The Beach Theatre will rise again

Bill DeYoung

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Joey Hager and Shana Nichols are the "new" Beach Theatre's first staff members. Photos by Bill DeYoung

Nine years ago today, on Nov. 18, 2012, the Beach Theatre closed. The new owner has chosen this anniversary to announce that the venerable movie house, the only such venue in St. Pete Beach, will come to life again in the summer or fall of next year.

Christopher Scott has formed a nonprofit, The Beach Theatre Community Foundation, Inc., to declare his intentions – to “restore, remodel, and maintain the historic Beach Theatre in a manner consistent with its original design and historical aesthetic” – and to accept donations. And suggestions. And encouragement.

The “new” Beach has a website for these purposes, spbeachtheatre.org.

Shana Nichols and Joey Hager are, respectively, the new executive director and director of operations and programming. Both have extensive backgrounds in the Tampa Bay film community.

Their mission, they both say, is to help Scott and the Board of Directors turn the Beach into the cultural asset its potential customers demand and deserve.

After being shuttered for nearly a decade, the 81-year-old concrete block structure was in sad shape  when Scott first unlocked the doors in August.

Christopher Scott and his wife Maria, inside the Beach Theatre Sept. 13, 2021.

Scott declared his intention at a public meeting, asking for community input on how the 4,800-square-foot building – once refurbished, of course – should best be utilized.

St. Pete Beach residents unanimously asked for a multi-purpose venue, where smaller, independent films could be screened. With music and concerts, too. And live theater. And dance. And community events. Maybe the occasional standup comic.

And that’s exactly what’s being planned.

First, what Nichols calls the “cleanup and gutting phase.” The old red seats, 200 of them, have been removed (approximately 150 brand-new seats will eventually be installed on the sloped floor). “The roof has been repaired, which was a big accomplishment,” she declares. “So there’s no more water leaking in the building.”

Hager’s ideas for the film series include, along with the requisite small-movie titles, classics, foreign films, maybe a PRIDE film festival and a series devoted to movies made in Florida. Including the bay area.

And the live midnight cast for The Rocky Horror Picture Show will return.

It’s too early to predict how the schedule will work. “We’ve got to see what the community is going to come out for, and how often they’re going to come out,” he explains. “We have enough to do seven days a week. It’s just a matter of making it financially work.”

Scott, who paid $652,000 for he building, estimates the complete rehabilitation into the next phase will cost between $400,000 and $600,000.

The “behind the scenes stuff,” adds Nichols, is being thought out as the building rehab continues. “So hopefully, when it’s done, we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

“We’ve been working on some mock calendars, for certain months of the year. We probably already have enough ideas to last us two, three years, maybe even five. We’ve got to scale it down!”

Some sort of memorial is planned, inside the theater, to former owner Michael France, who died suddenly a few months after closing the Beach back in November, 2012.

France, the successful Hollywood screenwriter who’d grown up watching movies at the Beach Theatre, closed it after taking one financial hit after another.

He had attempted, near the end, to turn the theater into a nonprofit.

Christopher Scott and his team have accomplished that, and although a design has not yet been settled on, the Beach will sport a fresh, new look when it re-opens in 2022.

Not that it’s going to transform into Radio City Music Hall.

“We’re going to have to work with the building as it is,” Nichols says. “It’s a one-room, one-screen theater.”

Even so, there’s some wiggle room behind the movie screen performance stage rear wall. The intention is to create some sort of dressing room/green room area for visiting artists.

“There’s not much we can do, expansion-wise,” offers Hager. “It’s just re-working the existing space. We are going to take out a row or two of seats, push back the concession stand a bit and make the lobby bigger. Because there’s not a lot of space in there.”

Related story: VINTAGE ST. PETE: Michael France and the Beach Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    Georgia Earp

    November 21, 2021at10:37 pm

    This is very exciting!

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