Kickstarter Helps Save A Small Town Theater

By May 7, 2013

Owners Hillary and Justin McLaughlin outside Highland’s Lory Theater.

The city of Highland, Illinois, is a quaint, small town in the heart of the Midwest with all the trappings you would expect… great schools, active parents, a picturesque town square, and even a locally-owned theater.  But without the support of the town, that theater was in jeopardy of closing for the second time in just two years.

The Lory Theater turned to Kickstarter for help in saving its rich history, a history that goes back over a century.  It was opened in 1912 as an open-air live theater venue called the Columbia Opera House, and it was later renamed the Lory Theater in 1932.  Through its doors, audiences have experienced all kinds of entertainment from opera, vaudeville, burlesque, silent, talkie and Technicolor films.

For a town whose closest major theater is nearly 30 minutes away, you can see why so many would be interested in saving it.  Plus, it offers singing ushers, fun promotions and contests, and even a locally-made soft drink called Ski.  If you’re not from the area, let me elaborate on Ski.  It’s similar to Mountain Dew, but made with pure cane sugar and has more caffeine at 69 mg in a 12 oz can (Mountain Dew has just 54mg).

The new owners, Justin and Hillary McLaughlin, purchased the Lory in 2012 after it had closed its doors in July 2011.  They invested in a three-month renovation and reopened the Lory the day after Christmas last year, just over four months ago.  However, because of a few surprises during construction, they were only able to renovate the bathrooms and one of its two auditoriums.

As an older theater, the Lory was still projecting movies using 35mm reels of film on equipment from the 1970s.  (See the machine in their video at the link below!) With the Digital Cinema Initiative looming, the Lory needed help quickly to replace its current equipment and go digital.  To do that, they needed to raise $57,000.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an online platform that helps people fund their creative projects.  However, it’s all or nothing.  You set your goal, and if you don’t meet it, you don’t receive anything.

Two days ago, Justin and Hillary obliterated their goal with the help of 599 backers, raising $69,864.  That’s $12,864 over their goal.  These additional funds will be put back into the theater for additional repairs such as marquee improvements, new air conditioning, concession stand updates, and more to name a few things on their list.

While there are many reasons someone might have donated to this particular Kickstarter in Highland, you’ve got to believe that one of the main reasons is the unique, loveable nature of its owners.  You’ll see what I mean in their video.  As someone who grew up in a small town, it’s easy to get to know others and take pride in your community.  (Plus, help that community in impactful ways.) It’s clear the community of Highland is behind the Lory, and it will be interesting to see how these new funds can propel it into a new era.  Check out their video by clicking here, and you’ll get a glimpse of how much fun an evening out at the Lory Theater could be.

Of course, this is just one example of the many projects that Kickstarter has helped get off the ground.  Not all of them involve saving a small, hometown theater, but it’s a great way to show how the power of people coming together can have a huge impact on our communities.

What do you think about Kickstarter? Any unique projects you’ve come across lately that you’ve donated money to?  Let me know in the comments!