Saturday, May 19, 2012

End of an era: The Vintage Theater in Scranton is closing

(Note: I originally intended to use this title on a post about the end of my run of weekly appearances on WBRE's PA Live!, presenting the NEPA Blogs Blog of the Week every Tuesday. But that ship sailed long ago, and I haven't gotten around to writing that post yet. So this post gets to claim the title.)

The Vintage Theater in Scranton will be closing after the upcoming First Friday event on Friday, June 1, 2012.

I first heard about the Vintage Theater (I think) shortly after it opened, in an article in the Scranton Times. I skimmed it, and somehow managed to convince myself that the theater that had been rehabbed and refurbished and reopened was the old Ritz Theater, where my friends and I used to catch dollar third-run showings of films like Out of Africa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? back in college. But I was wrong.

I found out how wrong I was the first time I went to the Vintage Theater. It wasn't that long ago - just last September 15th. I had been invited to take part in a Bloggers' Roundtable being held at the Vintage Theater. It was a Thursday night, which seemed like an odd time. I went into the event knowing very little about what I was getting into and prepared for anything. Well, almost anything. After actually locating the venue, I met with the three other bloggers who would be taking part, and then we sat in a line across a stage (no table involved, round or otherwise) and discussed blogging.

Towards the end of the night I noticed a trickle of people coming into the theater and looking at us on the stage with some surprise. They didn't seem to be there for the Bloggers' Roundtable, but migrated to a smaller room in the back of the theater. Some of them did take seats in the audience, and one even asked a question or two.

As the event came to a close I discovered that we were sharing the Vintage that evening with a poetry reading. I hadn't been to a poetry reading in many years, and decided to stick around and take it in. The group was called the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective, and they presented a wide range of poems and even some prose pieces every third Thursday of the month. I found out that they were a writing group that met every Saturday at the Vintage. I was about to start working again on a very irregular schedule, so I wasn't sure when I'd be able to meet with them, but I was definitely interested.

One person stepped up to do a "commercial" - her name was Kait Burrier, and she would be presenting dramatic readings of her work that coming Sunday at the Vintage. I saw this as an opportunity to get a taste of the cultural offerings of Scranton, a place that was at once familiar and brand-new to me.

Before the Bloggers' Roundtable broke up I was approached by the people who had arranged for it to take place, and I discovered that this was the opening shot of the Scranton Pages & Places Book Festival, which would take place Saturday, October 1 at various locations throughout Scranton - including the Vintage Theater. I was presented with a pass to the festival. It would be my first full day off after working my first rotation of night shift, but I was determined to make it there.

And I did. I took in the workshops on Non-Fiction Writing and Fiction Writing being presented at the Vintage. In between the two, I became re-acquainted with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective, who were having their weekly meeting in the back of the Vintage. I also met a writer and blogger whose posts I'd been following for several months - a startling and seemingly improbable encounter for both of us, though in retrospect it seems perfectly reasonable that I would encounter her as a part of a writing group.

I began going to the weekly meetings of the writing group at the Vintage just as soon as I could - which, from my old work calendar, looks like it would have been sometime in November. It was around this time that I was asked to take part in another event taking place at the Vintage Theater - the Scranton Bluekey Tweetup, an event designed to raise awareness of the plight of refugees. This event was organized by blogger Mandy Boyle, who I had first met in person at one of the Pages & Places writing workshops at the Vintage! Michelle, my co-administrator at NEPA Blogs, was also there (and had persuaded me to go in the first place), as were other local bloggers.

A little more than a month after the Tweetup Michelle and I were heading back to the Vintage for Pecha Kucha Night, another event that Mandy Boyle helped bring into being. This event was huge. The Vintage was crowded, more crowded than I had ever seen it before. But that would change.

My involvement with the writing group ramped up as the year went on. I had managed to miss all of their Open Mic Poetry Nights since my first chance encounter in September. The March one was going to be something special, focusing on just one of our writers for the second half of the show. I nominated myself to serve as group photographer, and manged to take some halfway decent images. A month later the spotlight turned on another of our writers, and I improved upon my technique somewhat - taking pictures indoors in a low-light situation with a tiny snapshot camera and not using a flash. (A tripod and an understanding of how your camera's Sports mode works are essential for this.)

But before the April Open Mic Night there would be one other event at the Vintage: the Scranton StorySlam.

I hadn't planned to go. It was right after Blog Fest, and the same day as the birthday party of the daughter of some of my friends, and I would be starting out more than eighty miles away. Michelle would be going as one of the judges, so I felt that her presence kept NEPA Blogs involved. Surely we didn't both have to be there! But the organizer had made a point of coming out to Blog Fest. And in a strange, freak coincidence, as soon as I began following the StorySlam on Twitter I found that I was the hundredth (or was it the thousandth?) Twitter follower and had won free admission. So now fate had decreed that I had to go, whether I wanted to or not.

That event was the most crowded I have ever seen the Vintage. It became standing room only long before the start of the show, and at halftime I had to retreat to the safety of the little room in the back where the writing group routinely met just so I could breathe. But overall, the StorySlam was a resounding success.

So we had the April Open Mic, and began making plans for the May one. This was a big one. It once again featured one member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective - but it was Jennifer Diskin, a member who had passed away in December, after a long and epic battle with cancer. I had never met her; I had only just started coming to meetings when I learned that she was very ill, and then that she had died. I didn't know her, but I knew that this was going to be an event not to be missed.

It was beautiful. The Vintage was crowded again - not like it was for the StorySlam, but in a manner appropriate for a memorial poetry reading. Friends read poems by her, or about her, or inspired by her, or even works that had been her favorites.  Through it all I clicked away with my camera, capturing some of my best pictures yet.

That was Thursday. Today Conor, the proprietor of the Vintage Theater, sat down with our writing group (after a particularly raucous session) and let us know that he would be vacating the premises following the upcoming First Friday event on June 1. He's planning to re-establish himself somewhere else in Scranton, using lessons learned from this venture, re-imagining the venue with a focus on art space and performing space.

We support him in this, of course. But it will take time. And in the meantime, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective needs to find a new - temporary - home. We appear to have found one, though I'll hold off making the announcement until it's official.

The Vintage Theater. I've had a lot of history with it in just the last eight months. It was a good place, and it served us well. I will be forever grateful to Conor for all the good times we had there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a nice write-up regarding the Vintage Theater, Harold, a fitting tribute. I'm glad that you were able to attend a lot of events there.

I also have a long history with Vintage. I held the release party for my chapbook Front Man there back in the fall of 2010, and I had one of my first dates there with my girlfriend Jenna, at a Ted Leo show. It will be interesting to see how Conor re-establishes himself and what follows.