Article on Manildra's Amusu Theatre

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Article on Manildra's Amusu Theatre

PostMon Jun 26, 2017 12:55 am

The Amusu Theatre would have to be one of the only - if not the only - theatre in the world to have begun as a travelling show and to still be in business today as a brick-and-mortar cinema. Dozens of travelling showmen journeyed through rural Australia during the 1920s and 30s, as seen in the film The Picture Show Man (1977).

From http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-20/manildra-amusu-theatre-kept-alive-volunteers/8635780, with pictures and video at the link.

Vintage cinema experience kept alive by volunteers at Manildra's historic Amusu Theatre
ABC Central West By Luke Wong
Posted Tue at 1:32am

In a town where choices for entertainment are few and far between, the long-running Amusu Theatre at Manildra, in central-west New South Wales, remains a cherished venue in the community of about 450 residents.

Eight decades after its doors first opened, a dedicated team of volunteers and generous donors keep the art deco-era cinema operating alongside a neighbouring movie poster museum.

The theatre's origins trace back to the early 20th century, with one man's vision to bring the magic of cinema to remote communities.

Getting the show on the road

In 1923 Manildra businessman Allan Tom started a traveling picture show using a film projector carted on the back of a flatbed truck.

Originally screening silent films to crowded halls and tents around central-west New South Wales, Mr Tom soon transitioned to showing movies with soundtracks using a record player.

In 1936 he established a permanent theatre building next door to his family's car mechanic garage in Manildra, where it still stands today.

While the cinema has progressed into the digital age, the novelty of stepping inside one of the region's oldest cinemas remains an ongoing attraction for visitors young and old.

"It's nostalgia, it's a wonderful place to be," theatre committee president Joan Stevenson said.

She said the Amusu remained an important landmark of Manildra because the nearest cinema was 50 kilometres away in Orange.

While her husband Alan attends to the maintenance, Ms Stevenson leads a small committee of dedicated volunteers who are kept busy organising monthly screenings and private showings for groups.

"It's a full-time job for me," she said.

One volunteer is long-time Manildra resident and theatre committee secretary treasurer Kevin Penson.

The wider Manildra community has played its part too, with several local businesses and individuals donating money and services over the years to help keep the doors open.

Generosity of movie memorabilia collectors

Ms Stevenson's son Darren successfully applied for a $50,000 grant from the NSW State Government that allowed the neighbouring Tom's Garage to be converted into a movie poster museum.

More than 30,000 vintage posters are now in the collection, most of which have been donated by generous benefactors.

One donor is former projectionist Alan Strachan, who worked in cinemas around New South Wales for more than 32 years.

"We're keeping something old that's an icon for the whole district. It's a fantastic thing. It's not a lot of trouble to keep it going now it's in a good running order," Mr Penson said.

During his travels he and his wife Madeline amassed several thousand pieces of movie memorabilia that they donated to the museum in 2011.

The couple are pleased to see their vast collection being preserved for the viewing public.

"I feel so good about that because they were all destined for the rubbish tip because nobody wanted to buy them, nobody even wanted to collect them, so I feel so pleased to have all that here," Mr Strachan said.

After the museum opened it attracted the eyes of collectors from near and far.

Proceeds from poster sales now greatly contribute to the running of the venue.

Several thousand items have also been donated by the former operators of Mount Vic Flicks in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, Ron and Diane Bayley.

Best seats in the house

Inside the auditorium, the tiered seats at either side of the projection room remain popular among visitors. "Allan Tom used to call that the swimming pool area. That's where the local lads learnt the 'breaststroke'," Ms Stevenson laughed.

Theatre committee member Lyn Woodhart is one of Mr Tom's four daughters.

She recalls fond childhood memories of growing up in the theatre.

"It was great because we went to all the pictures every Saturday night," she said.

"When we were young and there was a particularly frightening [movie] on Dad would say 'It's only a picture, don't cry'.

"So we had a wonderful time. We wouldn't have missed it."

Ms Woodhart continued her role as theatre usherette after the local council acquired the buildings in 2003.

She said her late father would be proud of the community's efforts to keep the theatre doors open.

"It's great to see it's still running, absolutely wonderful. I know my dad would be happy too," she said.

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