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News and Media

Renovated Apollo Theatre Ushers in New Era for Community, Cinema Studies

Sep. 20, 2012

Amanda Nagy

Dale Preston '83

Renovations have transformed the nearly century-old Apollo into a one-of-a-kind modern film and performance space on the first floor, and a Media Education Center with state-of-the-art post-production facilities on the second floor.

On Friday, September 21, a reopening gala will take place at 5 p.m. in the main theater. Managed by Cleveland Cinemas, the Apollo is slated to open for business on September 28.

Funding for the purchase and renovation of the Apollo complex was provided by generous support from Oberlin alumni, friends of the college, and local community members. Donors include the William and Sandy Steel family, famed television director and Cheers creator James Burrows ’62 and his wife Debbie Burrows, the Goldring Family Foundation, Oberlin College Board Chair Robert Lemle ’75, the Nord Family Foundation, and an anonymous Oberlin High School graduate.

The Friends of the Apollo was organized to support the second phase of renovation and beyond. The Friends of the Apollo Steering Committee include husband and wife actors Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, local arts advocates Kevin Flanigan and Jaqui Willis, and Oberlin alumni Elizabeth Ignat-Bausch ’91 and Justin Ignat-Bausch ’90.

The second floor of the theater—named the Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman Cinema Studies Center for Media Education and Production—will now be a key component of the curriculum as well as the program’s permanent home. The second floor will include a post-production lab, a sound recording studio and isolation booth, a multipurpose space that can function as a shooting studio with green screen, a color correction suite, and a simple animation room.

There will also be an office and workshop dedicated to the Apollo Outreach Initiative, a program that enables Oberlin’s cinema studies students to teach media literacy to children and teenagers in local public schools.

After the reopening gala, cinema studies will begin to use the building incrementally, says Associate Professor Geoff Pingree, director of the program. “With this extraordinary facility, there’s a lot for us to learn before we can use it to the greatest effect. By spring 2013, we expect to be fully up and running.”

Pingree says he knows of no other liberal arts institution where students can study and make media, then take what they’ve learned and share it with the surrounding community—all from a home base that’s a grand, historic theater from the era of silent movies.

“The renovated theater presents a wonderful opportunity for the entire Oberlin community to share a media center that can attract not only students to the college, but scholars, filmmakers, and artists from around the world. It can become a draw for film festivals and lecture series, and it will provide a center for storing archival materials. In the Apollo we envision a place that will allow cinema studies’ vision and the Oberlin community’s needs and interests to develop hand in hand.

“Add the existence of a world-class music conservatory, and students coming to Oberlin to explore and create cinema have a genuinely unique combination of resources and opportunities.”

Major upgrades to the Apollo include improvements to the main auditorium — The Burrows Theatre; new projection rooms; an ADA-compliant wheelchair lift; refurbished theater seats; and construction of a 61-seat screening room on the ground floor, which will serve as a second theater screen.

A refurbished marquee was installed with a new structural support system. In the main theater, Art Deco fiberboard panels in a chevron pattern, dating to the 1930s, were replicated and updated to meet current theater standards. In addition to restoring the upper windows, the project replaced missing and damaged panels in the once-gleaming façade of black and red Vitrolite glass — a glossy, marbled surface that was popular at the turn of the century and throughout the Art Deco era. All improvements conform to historic preservation standards.

College Properties of Oberlin, a wholly owned subsidiary of Oberlin College, purchased the theater from twin brothers William and Sandy Steel in 2009. The theater is now owned by Apollo Theater LLC and is managed by Cleveland Cinemas.

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