In October 2011 Aaron Stubna, a resident of Kennedy Township and owner of Lincoln Barber Shop, purchased the Parkway Theater, a vacant one-screen movie theater, in Stowe Township just west of Pittsburgh. Stubna hopes to contribute to the area’s revitalization by reopening the theater to show foreign and independent films.
Volunteers are needed to help continue the restoration this weekend, beginning at 1pm on Saturday, November 10. Find out more on Facebook and contact Aaron at moc.oohaynull@rebrabnlocnil to join the volunteer effort!
Writing for The Sprout Fund, Paul Carboni spoke with Aaron Stubna to learn more about the project, its origins and goals, its success so far, and its next steps.
Paul Carboni: What were your goals for this project setting out?
Aaron Stubna: The goal for this particular project was to get community involvement. We want the community to feel this is their theater also, whether that be general feedback or further down the road when we plan the theater’s design. We wanted the community to be hands-on and involved from the very first steps. This was a nice opportunity to introduce our plan for the theater and to get the community excited that the movie theater will reopen. We hoped the community would come out and lend a hand, and that’s exactly what happened.
PC: Why did you choose to use the Parkway Theater and how do you think it will contribute to the revitalization of Stowe Rocks?
AS: I have a passion for film. Being an amateur film maker I’m into all kinds of movies. I chose this particular venue because I used to go there as a kid. The opportunity came up for me to buy it and so I did. How will it contribute? Well, look at Lawrenceville. Back in the day if you said Lawrenceville would be a hip little walking town people would say you’re crazy. The key is having cool destinations. Then you create your base of young professionals and young families because you can walk to all this cool stuff. You rebuild your business district and it’ll trickle into the homes. I see the potential Stowe Rocks has because I’ve seen what it once was.
PC: You’ve placed a lot of importance on the theater’s atmosphere. Why do you think that’s important?
AS: I just thought, “What type of theater do I want to go to?” If you’ve been to any of our local movie theaters, you know they’re not in the best shape. You got to make the theater attractive to pull people away from their flat screens and Blu-rays. You got to create this interesting atmosphere. I want the theater to be the premier art house in Pittsburgh from day one. We don’t need another run-down, one-screen movie theater. People are going to be wondering “Do I want to go to Stowe Rocks?” That’s why the food has to be good, you got to have cool cocktails, microbrews. Maybe before the movie have a band playing. People are paying seven or eight bucks to get in, give them a little more entertainment. It all comes down to that atmosphere and that vibe.
PC: What kinds of programs do you have in mind for when the theater opens?
AS: Our main program will be the movies we show. It’s almost like we’re curators of an art gallery, putting these movies out there and saying here’s this movie and here’s why you should see it. We’ll have lectures and seminars from time to time. There are people who would like to discuss a particular movie or a particular director. I think it would be interesting to have film discussions. Maybe down the road we could even get a director to come in and speak on their movie. Maybe we could show some shorts from Pittsburgh film makers.
PC: So where is the theater now in terms of progress?
AS: Using the funds from The Sprout Found, we did some light demolition. In Phase One we tore out some brick walls. People were sledge hammering the brick, tearing fabric off the walls. So the space is pretty raw right now.
PC: What do you have planned for Phase Two?
AS: Phase two is to tear out the seats. That’ll be coming up at the end of September or early October. We’re seeking volunteers. There are close to two hundred seats. It’s going to be a lot of work tearing these seats out and preparing them to be scrapped.
PC: How has The Sprout Fund’s support helped to catalyze your overall project?
AS: The funding from the Sprout Fund really helped us get the community together and get all the equipment for so many people to help out and really get some work done. Now there’s word of mouth that the theater will reopen, that something good is going to happen. For a lot of grants, you need to be a nonprofit to even apply for them. Sprout opens their doors to people with good ideas and good plans with a purpose.