Majestic becoming Vero Beach’s house theatre

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — From high-definition live broadcasts of full-length operas and British theater, to free big-screen showings of World Cup soccer matches, the Majestic Theater has evolved into the closest thing to an art house theater Vero Beach has ever seen.

In just two years, its management, led by owner Rick Starr II, has made known that cultural events are a priority, suggestions and requests are welcome, and nothing is too highbrow ,or low-brow, for that matter– the theater has also shown episodes of the popular “Dancing with the Stars.” Last week, an “encore” HD rerun of the four-hour “Aida” played to a theater that was sold out days in advance. Meanwhile, followers of the World Cup sought refuge from the heat of summer – and the scorn of the uninitiated – to watch key match-ups broadcast live in HD on Majestic’s wide screen. Only in Vero Beach are soccer fans treated to such civility and creature comforts, amidst the theater’s over-the-top vintage red velvet décor, and ultra-cushy seats.

Next month, one of Majestic’s eleven screens will come alive at the precise moment that the curtain rises across the pond for a performance at London’s National Theater. Those simulcasts, repeated later in the day here in Vero on the same day, are typically not sold out, director of operations Jim Deal says.

“For the Met, we actually turn people away,” says Jim Deal, director of operations for the Majestic’s parent company, Cinemaworld, which opened its first Florida theater in 2002. “It’s a very similar audience (as for the opera.) The theater, most people don’t know we’re running it.”

But don’t expect that to be the case for long. Word of mouth has long been Majestic’s best friend. Even for its first-run movies have become magnets for a largely beachside audience, seen socializing in ticket lines on any given evening.

Last month those listings included the sexually violent and brilliantly acted Swedish thriller, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” cross-promoted by the Vero Beach Book Center which featured the best-selling book on which the movie is based. Later this summer, the sequel will also have a screening, though foreign films typically have a short, one week run.

While adults may be hiring sitters to get their fix of film, Majestic is busy building brand loyalty – and memories – among Vero’s youthful movie lovers.

All summer long, it is hosting kids’ movies for free at 10 am daily. And the theater happily hosts community benefits, like the one last Saturday for ChildCare Resources, at which children, many wearing costumes, were treated to an afternoon party followed by a screening of Toy Story III, with proceeds from ticket sales going to the preschool charity.

Monday, at 2 p.m., the National Theatre production of “London Assurance,” the 19th century comedy by Irish playwright, will be broadcast simultaneously at 2 pm (with an encore the same evening at 7 p.m.) Produced by the same company as the Metropolitan Opera HDLive productions, the NTLive screenings, as they are called, are produced by ByExperience, a third-party company that beams the play by satellite to a select number of movie theaters across the country.

Those theaters are determined by audience, and Vero qualified two years ago when Cinemaworld owner Rick Starr II, a lover of opera, requested that Met broadcasts air here. Deal says By Experience offers a broad range of similar live programming in HD, including performances from ballet to rock concerts, to 1100 theaters worldwide.

Deal says the movie exhibitors industry as a whole has been searching for ways to utilize screens in off-hours, as opposed to only airing first-run movies. He points out that many of the live broadcasts coming from Europe air in the US at times when the theater is typically empty.

The better attended the local productions, the more likely the Majestic is to receive a broader selection of programming. “That will only help us get more of this type of thing in the future. There are definitely more out there,” says Deal. “Some things they only want to play in a major metropolitan area. But when they realize the kind of numbers we generate, it helps us have a wedge to say, ‘Listen, we really can support it in this market.'”

Deal suggests checking the theater website (www.cinemaworldonline. com/vero/) for broadcasts like the World Cup games, which he said soccer fans really seemed to enjoy in the company of others, and on a huge screen.

“We did really well for the England vs. USA game.” There is also a way to sign up for an email newsletter that lists upcoming events at the theater.

“If you think about it, theaters used to be that central place in the community where everybody went,” says Deal, a 20-year veteran of the industry. “They saw everything from newscasts to cartoons, in addition to movies. It’s a function of technology that we can now show live events. That’s a neat draw.”

In addition, the Majestic has lent its big screens to shows normally reserved for television, including “Dancing with the Stars” and the “Lost” finale.

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