“Ten years ago, the old theater’s roof caved in and the owners decided not to fix it. We were without a theater for three years. A group of about 15 of us started to meet on how to rebuild it.” Gary Long, one of those 15, was telling me how the beautiful theater where Spotlighting USDA was held in Hill City, KS (population 1,604) was rebuilt.
“We applied for federal tax credits and got $270,000 which we supplemented with $30,000 raised locally to build this new theater. We opened in November, 2002. We’re all volunteers. The only one who draws a paycheck is our accountant.”
“This isn’t only a theater, but is also a multi-purpose stage. We had a style show here last week. A lot of church groups use it also.”
The theater seats 132 in larger rocker/recliner seats with cup holders. They are the only digital sound theater in the area. Films are shown on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday schedule during the spring/summer and on a Saturday/Sunday/Monday schedule during the high school sports season. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for students and a large combo only costs $4.75.
Gary Long and his wife and four other couples are the core group of volunteers who keep the theater running. They’ve averaged 50 seats since they opened, well above their break-even of 20. Recent shows have been Pirates of the Caribbean, Click and Superman Returns.
It’s great to see what a passionate, motivated group can do in a town like Hill City. Having a theater is one of those glues that helps to hold a town together. If they didn’t have the theater, the local kids would have to drive to Hays, which is 58 miles away.