BY JORDAN PARKER
The PLAZA Theatre stands bright and tall on Centre Street, serving as a beacon to remind older residents of yesteryear.
Not only that, but owners Leslie and Herb Goldstein also strive to bring new faces into their 1920’s-style building and offer them a film-going experience you just won’t get from a chain cinema.
After all, the PLAZA Theatre is family-run and maintained, and has been since Leslie’s maternal grandparents, Lily and Lewis Durham, had the place in the early 1900’s.
“My grandfather had done work in England with movies and silent pictures, and he would carry films by hand from one small town to the next. When they immigrated to Canada, they would eventually open the Plaza,” said Leslie Goldstein.
“The opening was planned to coincide with the advent of the ‘talkie’ films and the availability of movie ‘sound’ equipment.”
Lewis Durham and his wife would, through the PLAZA help usher in talking pictures and expose Shaunavon residents to them.
Part of the reason the PLAZA Theatre sets itself apart is because of the atmosphere a family-run enterprise brings.
“The siblings worked there when it was the PLAZA. My mom, aunt and uncle would work there. Lewis died at a relatively young age, and then my grandmother continued to operate it with the kids,” said Goldstein.
“It’s just like having a family farm since its’ inception. You just take it for granted. Doesn’t everybody? It’s like you’re born to the place. It will always be a part of your life. As you grow, you get different jobs through it, but the family was always involved somehow.”
Goldstein took part in the “routine work” at the theatre, but was very much involved in other endeavours.
“I worked in retail in high school and helped at the theatre when I could. I went to university and did some teaching. Herb and I left Shaunavon for two years, but then we’d eventually take over in 1989.”
With her grandmother, aunt and dad gone, she would take over the family business from her 82-year-old uncle. But the PLAZA wasn’t Herb and Leslie’s singular focus until three years back.
“We first got the jewelry store next door when it was called Needles & Pins, It was for fabric and drapery then. Then it was Gallery of Gold jewelry and giftware,” she said.
The two would close and revamp the place, and it would soon become Phoenix Rising, and would focus on the sale of Canadian product. But four years ago, the two sold it, and it’s now Andersboda. It was at that point they were free to really focus on the Plaza Theatre.
“I think it drew us more than anything else because it really was the family business. The community relied on it, and it was our responsibility to take it back to its former glory,” said Goldstein. “It’s a family pride thing. I realize you never really own anything. You’re just the caretaker for a while, and right now, we’re this place’s caretakers.”
They are now on their fifth generation of family working there, and have now moved on to an exciting endeavour; a recent deal has allowed the Plaza to further expand their film offerings. “We’re really investigating smaller films. A few years ago, Reel Wednesdays would be done, and it would have artsy or Canadian movies playing. It was about bringing smaller, nice quality films into town,” she said. “With the audience and the different ages, we’re not only bringing in more mature people with this idea, but people with a variety of interests. It won’t be all about big blasts, noise and explosions. People can enjoy the stories coming through from our more independent titles.”
Oscar-winning film Boyhood will start this new trend with a one-night show on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. The two-and-a-half hour film, shot over 12 years, showcased the changes in the life of one young boy over his childhood and through adolescence. The 12-year gamble of a film, made by director Richard Linklater and his committed cast, allowed it to land best picture, director, original screenplay and supporting actor/actress nods at the Academy Awards. Patricia Arquette would win that night for her supporting turn.
It will be followed up by Still Alice, starring this year’s best actress winner Julianne Moore as a Columbia University professor who discovers she has Alzheimer’s disease. The film shines a light at how her painstaking journey affects her and those around her. It will play March 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m.
“A lot of classic films will be the smaller pictures. We’re just trying to give more appeal to a wider audience. The more people we can bring in, the more types of pictures we can show,” said Goldstein.
Just in the past few months, they’ve shown everything from Kevin Hart-starring hit comedy The Wedding Ringer to box-office juggernaut American Sniper and family-friendly titles like Paddington and Annie. The two like to mix things up and keep different audiences coming in.
“We get to vary our audience depending on the films that are on. It’s amazing to have chances to always present something different. You always want to be shaking things up in this business,” she said.
Not only does the Plaza Theatre offer a wide range of films, but the Goldsteins have gone to great lengths to try to bring a new-school look to an old-school theme.
“We’ve done our best to maintain it. There have been no grand transformations to the building that affected the character of it. Some things were removed that were no longer current or became a nuisance. Some things were set aside and forgotten,” she said.
During thee renovations recently, they went for the original 1920’s look again, with some obvious updates.“We’ve repurposed, dusted off and repainted old things for alternate use. We were lucky we kept our old projector, and we display old equipment like that. People are loving coming in and seeing it,” said Goldstein.
The theatre, lit with candles, comes equipped with a state-of-the-art projector and newly installed speakers for a fully surround experience. Herb and Leslie try to ensure their guests feel right at home. “We have a display case there with odds and ends and movie memorabillia, and there are some old pictures of the family. People can see who’s taken care of this place the whole way along,” she said.
The Goldsteins are happy to continue to serve Shaunavon, and they light up when they can provide something unique for guests. “We have people come who no longer live here, and they bring others in here. They stand aside and tell stories and memories about this place,” she said. “This place is of grand importance to some people. Whether they had their first date here, experienced their first movie or tasted their first bit of popcorn, we’ve been there to provide all sorts of experiences over the years.”
She hopes she and her family can keep the experiences coming for many more years. “I want people to breathe it in and love the atmosphere. This is beyond a movie theatre when you walk in. We want this to be a special event every time,” she said.
“We want people to feel like they’ve been a part of and witnessed something great. I want this place to be special for every person.”
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