Plot Twist

The Historic Avery Memorial Theatre in Etna…

The pandemic had a far-reaching impact on numerous industries, and theatres in particular. And for a moment, it seemed as if the historic Avery Memorial Theatre in Etna was destined to become another casualty. But then came the plot twist. “The Avery Theatre has been managed since the 1980s by the Scott Valley Theatre Company, with various boards coming and going,” recalls Dee Jones, now the treasurer for the Scott Valley Theatre Company.

During COVID, however, all the wind was taken out of the theater’s sails and they were down to two board members. Then one got seriously ill and keeping the doors open became near impossible. “Another community member named Madeline Ayers and I decided to hold a revival meeting and let people know what was really happening,” Jones says. “We put up posters and asked everyone we knew to come help us save the theatre. To our surprise, 75 people showed up. No one had known the theatre was this close to the brink and needed help. So, of those 75 people, 63 of them signed up to volunteer and help. It was heartwarming.”

Photos courtesy of Avery Theatre

The group also recruited seven new eager board members. “I’m the emeritus member at 72. The youngest is still in his 20s, with the otherwise eldest of the group in her mid-40s. So, they’ve got energy. They’ve got passion. They’ve got all kinds of ideas, and we’re making them real.”

One of the first orders of business was to get programming back on track, and people back in the habit of going to the theatre. “The first thing we decided we would do was to revive the Avery as a movie theatre in addition to the stage for live production. We started screening two movies a month and sold our concessions. We got an ABC license to add beer and wine, and that’s definitely been a real draw,” notes Jones. She adds that the movies themselves have gone from just screenings to full-scale events. “We’ve had great turnouts and try to play with the theme. For instance, when we screened Blazing Saddles, we gave people swag and $2 off their beer if they came in with a stick horse. People get really creative and seem to be loving it.”

Photos courtesy of Avery Theatre

So far, the community’s enthusiasm can also be measured in the theatre’s positive bank balance, which is already bringing about much-needed building improvements. “We upgraded our bathrooms. We have hot water for the first time. We completely rewired our electrical panel so that we can use switches to turn power on and off instead of the breakers,” says Jones with a smile. She also acknowledges how much they appreciate other forms of support. “When we needed a new popcorn machine because the old one was so old it was a fire hazard, we put out an appeal for the required $1,200, and we received $2,100 from our community. We’re also partnering with local businesses right now. We are planning a donor appreciation dinner alongside Denny Bar to cross-promote each other. Same thing with the Flixx Fest film festival coming back to the Avery this fall. We all succeed together. Because at the end of the day, the Theatre Company is a public benefit corporation. So, the onus is on us to make the theatre benefit the public, and we take it very seriously because we want it to last in perpetuity.”

To that end, Jones is also proud of the $25,000 grant that the California Nonprofit Performing Arts Council awarded to the Theatre Company this year, and the changes she hopes it will bring. “We decided that if we ever going to do a major renovation, the time was now. So, we took that $25,000 and retained a very well-regarded design group to do a feasibility study. And once we’re armed with that, we intend to go out into the world of grants and look for some big ones that would be sufficient to do a phased building improvement plan. We anticipate that the project will be about $3 million to $4 million.”

Photos courtesy of Avery Theatre

When Jones talks about the future of the Avery Theatre, her passion for the arts is palpable. “We really visualize ourself as a performing arts theatre. As much as we love the movies, their purpose has been to reinvigorate, and we’ll still be doing that. But our real focus is to get live theatre and live artistic productions of many different types, musical theatre, dance. And to that end, we are working tirelessly because we feel that we have a very lively arts community here, and we want a space where people can give their gifts.”

And despite her emeritus status, she’s not planning on exiting the stage herself any time soon. “I figure I’ve got 10 good years where my background in finance and real estate can be brought to bear for the theatre because it’s really my intention to leave a legacy. I do not want this valuable community asset to go by the wayside. It almost did, and through sheer force of will and appeal to our community, here we are.” •

Avery Theatre • 430 Main St., Etna • (530) 467-5515

About Megan Peterson

Megan Peterson is a freelance storyteller who loves her family, her pets, and Northern California. Her favorite part of writing is finding flow, and she always relishes a touching human story. Aside from Enjoy, she’s typically busy writing and producing for television, having created more than 220 hours of on-air content on networks ranging from National Geographic to Netflix.

Related Posts