story by david pena photos by shelia scott
Coming off a successful 2016, Springfield’s Mars Theatre is looking forward to
expanding its horizons in more ways than one this year.
Over sixty years ago, when Jack and Harry Ramsey opened a small, independent theater in the quaint little town of Springfield, little did they know the venue would soon became a fixture for local residents. In its original heyday, The Mars Theatre premiered such classics as War of the Worlds and From Here to Eternity for its Effingham patrons, but after closing its doors in 1958, the theater stood empty until it was occupied by various businesses throughout the seventies. The grand venue was given new life, however, when the Springfield Revitalization Corporation adopted the Mars as its project with the intention of refurbishing the town’s historic theater.
However, a lot has happened at the Mars Theatre since reopening its doors almost three years ago. More than 47,000 tickets have been sold for movies with visitors coming as far away as from Anchorage Alaska. Allison Newberry, Theater Director for The Mars, attributes the theater’s success to a very simple formula. “Affordable movies and concessions are why many people keep coming back,” she observes.
Not satisfied with resting on its laurels, in addition to the theater’s regular offerings, the kids’ movie series “Two for Tuesdays” will return this summer with show times at 10 am and 2 pm. Classic Movie Matinées will also take place one Sunday a month at 3 pm. “People have really enjoyed seeing these classic movies in a historic theater,” she adds.
Entertainment options at the theater aren’t just limited to films, though. The Mars features highly eclectic musical acts who performing everything from bluegrass and southern rock to gospel, Motown and country. Last year there were sell out shows for Motown favorite the Drifters and country legend John Anderson. Looking back on the success of the previous year, Newberry is excited about the upcoming events planned for 2017. “We’ve got our first gospel concert in May featuring the Anchormen, one of the premier quartets in Christian music.” A tribute to legendary Johnny Cash is scheduled for July, and country acts Two Way Crossing and Backroad Anthem are also slated to appear this year. Actor Bill Oberst Jr. is scheduled to perform Louis Grizzard “In His Own Words” on August 26, not to mention a holiday show featuring a capella group Eclipse 6.
In addition to the diverse mixture of performances and movies to come in 2017, the theatre is also planning an expansion project that will take place this fall. City Manager Brett Bennett said, “The upcoming expansion will allow us to bring larger acts into the theatre. Right now our performers have to use city council chambers to change and eat before shows. It will be nice to have everything under one roof.” This includes expanding the size of the stage, adding a green room and dressing rooms for the artists, as well as needed storage space.
In addition to providing affordable entertainment, Newberry also attributes the success of the theater to its uniqueness and community support. “I think people love the fact that they can see a movie or a live concert right here in Effingham County.” She also credits the Mars’ success to a group of businesses, and individuals collectively known as the “Friends of the Mars.” “We owe them much gratitude for helping to bring more well-known live events to the theater. The number of sponsors has increased each year. Although sponsorship of a movie theatre may seem a bit unorthodox, becoming a “Friend of the Mars” shows that you are interested in building our community, both economically and culturally.” There are unique benefits that sponsorships allow. For example, depending on the level, a business could receive recognition on the screen before every movie and their logo on the digital marquee located on Highway 21. Another unique benefit involves sponsoring a live event or blockbuster movie premiere; businesses are recognized on-line, on the theatre marquee and verbally during live event show introductions. Tangible benefits can include tickets to live events, gift cards, movie passes and popcorn vouchers.
Proving that it’s not all about profits and popcorn, Newberry says the staff of the Mars tries to give back to the community in various ways. “We have partnered with Coastal Pet Rescue and Live Oak Libraries, and we have held several fund raising events for area schools,” Newberry says. “Most recently we brought the ECHS Show Choir in to perform songs from their spring musical at no charge to the public.” The Mars is also available to rent for private functions and field trips. If you don’t want to see what is currently in the theatre, another movie can be ordered for your event.
You can find information about the theater at www.marstheatre.com, or visit the venue’s Facebook page.