Act II: The Pioneer Theater reopens after renovations
Published 10:18 am Saturday, June 3, 2023
After three months of renovations and anticipation, The Pioneer Theater has reopened in downtown Manteo.
Managing partner Michael Basnight, together with co-owners Jamie and David Hatchell and Derek and Sharon Hatchell, opened with Andy Griffith’s 1957 A Face in the Crowd on May 26.
“I think that’s the right one to start with for Andy,” Basnight said of Andy Griffith, who performed at The Pioneer Theater and also held several movie premiers there. “It was said he was sort of enamored with the old theater … I just feel like that’s the right thing to do.”
Through Memorial Day weekend, the theater held a “soft opening” to work out the kinks, showing a matinee of A Face in the Crowd and an evening showing of Jesus Revolution.
“The opening was beyond my expectations,” said Basnight, “in the cool, fun, and exhausting categories.”
The interior and exterior of the theater have been remodeled to reflect the character of the original 1934 building. The Tudor façade was removed in February, revealing the original golden brick which has been cleaned and restained.
New black doors with inlaid frosted glass flank the updated ticket booth, designed by John Wilson. The numbers 1918 and 1934 are marked above each door – significant dates representing the opening of The Pioneer Theater and the date it moved to the current location. A shiny new black and white marquee with rounded edges – similar in style to the original – is mounted above the entrance, welcoming visitors.
The black and white starred tile on the ticket booth carries through to the inside with a completely refreshed and spacious lobby. Designer Vicki Holding selected period-appropriate pieces from antique shops for the interior, while her husband Todd expertly added custom carpentry pieces to fit each space.
The stained wood and glass candy case was found at Round Top Antiques Show in Texas. Todd extended the concession counter with more self-serve options to keep the line moving quickly.
Goodies options haven’t changed – candy, popcorn and soda (with the same perfectly crushed ice). The business now accepts credit cards for snacks and tickets, and the soon-to-be-completed website will allow visitors to purchase movie tickets a couple days in advance.
In the lobby, antique glass chandeliers sparkle with art deco charm. The wall sconces found in the theater storage area were cleaned and repainted by Vicki to shine once more.
“I love how [the renovation has] brought back what was grand in downtown Manteo. Art deco is what it should be, what it should have been all along,” she said.
Other highlights include remodeled bathrooms with new tile work and stained-glass window inserts, numbered seats in the auditorium (particularly for concert events) and an elevated VIP seating area with tables and barstools.
The owners have added a mixer board and a microphone set to the sound system to allow the theater to transition easily from showing movies to holding concerts or private events. A green room and lounge for performers to hang out is still under construction.
Within the next couple of weeks, the outside garden area will also be completed in the former parking area. Turf grass, string lights, tables made of wine barrels, a built-in bar, and food truck hook ups will add another recreation space for visitors through the warmer months.
Basnight said he’s excited about the versatility of the theater to move quickly from an afternoon matinee, for example, to a concert or a comedy show.
But he admits he’s a little nervous. “I can tell you how to do heart surgery and programming privilege but I’ve never done anything like this before,” said the former medical device representative turned movie theater owner.
Prior Pioneer Theater owner and family friend Buddy Creef is helping with the transition. After they argued good naturedly back and forth for a while if it was Creef’s great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather who took on Basnight’s great-grandfather as an apprentice years ago, the new owner asked the former one, are you ready to show me how to run the projector?
The summer calendar is already filling up. Starting June 2, the classic film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, will run all week until bluegrass singer Caroline Owens performs live June 9 and 10. The following Wednesday on June 14, Chairmen of the Board will perform at The Pioneer Theater as part of the VusicOBX B-side event. Laughing Gull Comedy will hold a show Wednesday, June 21.
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that the Chairmen of the Board was part of the VusicOBX summer series; it is actually part of the VusicOBX B-side events.