A Masters Degree In the Greater Good

By Mike Jurkovic

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The marquee on Main Street is the soul of Main Street. If  that light goes out you lose something very important. - John Wackman, curator, Rosendale Theatre Music Fan Film Series

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If I may, a personal preamble and observation: In over thirty-five years of volunteering with, working for, or participating in non-profit organizations (including Calling All Poets Series, which I cocaptain with my brother-in-arms Jim Eve) I have never come upon a more higher functioning group of individuals than those dedicated to making the Rosendale Theatre thrive as both a single-screen movie house and, more importantly, as you listen to many involved speak their passions, a hub of community togetherness. Banded together as the Rosendale Theatre Collective (RTC) in 2010, they truly are that rare cooperative of energies, talents, and shared vision, converging to sustain what has become, not only an Ulster County landmark but a regional one as well. And perhaps, as we delve briefly into the history of the Republic of Rosendale, it’s an enduring story of grassroots perseverance and community alliance that powers not only the RTC but the town’s beating heart.

We came to it with whatever skills and passions we had. What we didn’t know we learned on the fly and we’re still learning. It’s a masters degree in the greater good. - Ann Citron, Executive Director, Rosendale Theatre

Cobbled together from lands once belonging to the neighboring villages of Marbletown, Hurley, and New Paltz, Rosendale was founded in 1844 by order of the New York State General Assembly. Historians tend to acknowledge the town’s formation had everything to do with the state’s desire to bring the area’s prospering cement industry under one political entity.

Cement dust was everywhere as were the 5,000 men who hauled the limestone and fired the kilns. From 1825 through the early 1900’s, over half of the estimated 35 trillion tons of natural cement mined in the United States came from this Ulster County area. Rosendale Cement, both as a brand name and product, serve as the cornerstone building material for the Erie Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty’s grand pedestal, the NYS Thruway, the Croton Dam and the entire aqueduct system that delivers fresh water to New York City. The advent of the quicker drying Portland Cement caused Rosendale’s ruinous collapse, closing the last mine in 1970. Today, the Edison Coatings Co. mines Rosendale Cement for authentic historical renovations and restorations.

I see our programming meetings - Nicole, Jerry, John, Ann, Georgette, Fatima, Pam, Joel, Laurie, Emily, and all - akin to the roundtable at the Algonquin Hotel: a group of creatives willing to discuss and collaborate on how to promote both the arts and the heritage. - Ed Schoelwer, board member. (The Algonquin Round Table met for lunch almost every day from June 1919 through 1929. Its participants included, among many wily creatives,  playwright George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead, Noel Coward, and Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker.)

Like they say in the movies - CUT! 

Poughkeepsie’s hard toiling tile setter, Anthony Cacchio Sr. and his wife Fanny had an idea. A dream, really. They heard about a building for rent in a tiny Ulster town across the river. And though its name may conjure whiskey scented scenes of miners cussing, smoking, and gambling away their dusty pay, The Rosendale Casino was pretty much everything but. It served as a firehouse, a basketball court, a vaudeville and burlesque hall, a place to play checkers, cards, and sit with the neighbors. It had (and still has) a plain tin ceiling that, to this very day, is still peeling. 

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But all that wasn’t about to deter Anthony and Fanny. With the mayor’s blessing, Anthony Sr., along with his sons Rocco and Tony Jr., converted the Rosendale Casino into a 300 seat, one room theatre. On the cold evening of February 18, 1949, Anthony Sr. was running late from a construction job. Fanny commanded the ticket booth (tickets were 25 and 50 cents) while the brothers showed the townsfolk to their seats and the Rosendale Theatre opened its doors.

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Robert Mitchum, Barbara Del Geddes, and Robert Preston rode into Rosendale in Blood On The Moon and found a place to water the horses, cool their thirst and settle down to usher in the first of generations of cinematic wonder to follow.

It’s like falling into a dream together. - Mikhail Horowitz, writer and performance artist (1)

Despite wars, recessions, rapid-fire technological advances, and the setbacks/triumphs that occur fatefully to families and communities alike, movies made magic. Even after the Rondout Flood of ’55 (“They lost everything,” nephew Michael, who returned from college to his grandparent’s dream in 1998, has said) the doors haven’t closed.

It’s escapism. But you’re escaping with your neighbors together. You feel less alone and there’s a gift in that. - Carl Welden, sound tech and performance artist (2)

Continuity counts in the movies. So if legends can still remain true to their stature given our time-shredding, meme centered, and too often mean-spirited pace of days, Tony Cacchio Jr., now lovingly and respectfully known as Uncle Tony, is just that: the theatre’s heart and soul.

Uncle Tony opens the theatre daily around 5pm. Turns on the heat or the AC then makes his way to the projection room. He made the transition from 16mm, 35mm to digital but prefers film: old westerns and romance movies to be specific. A good old time comedy. He also lets you know he doesn’t like the language or all the sex in modern films. He’s checked the order of the reels, their leader tape and, for a good while, he booked the movies to be shown. When streaming, beaming, and 4G became reality, Justin Peone, Technical Director, stepped in to unlock the digital keys to the show. Whatever this venerated oasis needed — ticket taker, usher, popcorn seller, janitor, projectionist — he’s done. For seventy years and counting.

All the parents would drop their kids off at the theatre on Saturday mornings. There’d be upwards of one hundred kids sometimes. Cartoons, matinees, candy. If you got out of hand, Tony, Sr. or Fanny made sure your parents knew about it. - Bill Brooks, Rosendale Town Historian, town barber, and lifelong resident.

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But the ephemera of time demands hard decisions and in 2009, after Tony Sr. passed in ’98, Fanny in ’04, and his brother Rocco’s sudden death in ’08, Uncle Tony admits to not watching the movies anymore. “I enjoy meeting the people, my people, and seeing a full house downstairs,” he’s memorialized in the past. (3)

So nephew Michael and Uncle Tony came to the crossroads. They knew they couldn’t continue as things were and they didn’t want to sellout to developers. Word went out to the community at large.

After 28 years in television I was looking to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a Main Street theater. After 2008, I realized owning wasn’t going to happen. . . after moving to this area in 2010, I met Ed Schoelwer who told me about the Rosendale Theatre. Save a town’s theatre and you make many friends. - John Wackman

I’ve been with the theatre long before the collective. I go in and for two hours someone else conducts my life, It’s truly wonderful. And I’m always amazed and grateful that, for such a small town, at how many have embraced the theatre and its programming. - Fatima Deen, programming and gala committee member, and enthusiastic popcorn girl.

Like the miners before them, the RTC came from everywhere and every walk of life. Hudson Valley transplants via Long Island and NYC. Townies involved with the arts, business, and the daily bartering that makes a community breathe as one. Like the Family Cacchio before them, most knew next to nothing about running a theatre. Especially one in need of so much intensive labor and technological renovation. But they learned.

It’s vital to keep a single screen theaters alive and active. [There are an estimated 2-3,000 single screen theaters still  operating in the country.] I had been volunteering at the Cinema Arts Center on Long Island. When I came up here I thought the best way to meet people would be getting involved with the theatre. - Georgette Mattel, programming committee member, volunteer, and curator of World Cinema.

In 2010, long before Bernie Sanders popularized little-guy, grassroots funding, the late chair of the now non-profit Rosendale Theatre Collective, Richard ’F-Stop’ Minissali and the collective managed to raise $110,000 from Rosendale residents and businesses in small, everyday amounts of $10-$100. In April of that year, the group won $50,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project as the “Refreshing Idea for Arts and Culture.” (A theatre patron who was also a statistician figured how many votes they needed per day to win).

They gathered over 100 faithful to the Rosendale Recreation Center to make their case. They hosted penny socials, fund-raisers, dances, 40 pot lucks in 40 days. In May they secured their down payment. On August 19, 2010 the RTC became the trusted guardians of the Rosendale Theatre. In 2013 they underwent a massive renovation.

Even though we present much more varied programming now like live theatre, music, special presentations. It’s very important to all of us that we continue what Uncle Tony and the Cacchio family started. At the heart it’s how we make things nice for all our patrons. - Ann Citron

They study the NY Times film section. They watch what’s playing at the Film Forum. They pass links among themselves from YouTube, IMDb, and other film resources. They maintain good relations with distributors. Their board of advisors includes Melissa Leo, Adian Quinn, Mandy Patinkin, ‘Cousin’ Bruce Morrow, and Denny Dillon. Like Bill Brooks, Board President Brian Mathews spent many Saturday mornings as a kid at the theatre. They never show any movie for more than a week. 

Over the course of the last 8 years, over 500 people have signed on to volunteer with a steady 150 who work nightly shifts annually. They range from 10-86 years of age. They come from  just across Main Street to as far away as Denver, NY, an hour north.

I can’t tell you how much gratitude and love I have for our volunteers. These people are dedicated and don’t ever ask for anything in return. I never would have thought we could successfully keep our doors open every night with volunteer shifts for the last 8 years, but we do! The Rosendale Theatre is a very special place and the volunteers make the magic happen. - Laurie Giardino, Volunteer Coordinator.

Yet challenges remain. 

The machinery to be informed has broken down. Arts commentary has dwindled in all the channels we once shared, TV, newspapers, magazines. So the onus for informing people about movies has fallen on the providers, sellers, and presenters of the content. Bloggers to me are high tech versions of neighbors talking through the fence in their yards. It’s great word of mouth but you can get manic checking so many sources. Reading newspapers digitally poses its own problem. The AI guides you to stories you’re interested in.  But when actually turning the page of the paper you could discover something new and unexpected. - Ed Schoelwer

Ever since Michael and Uncle Tony offered the theatre to Nicole Quinn, ‘F-Stop’, the community, and me, it has been a challenge. To me the new challenge is home streaming. How do you get people out of their houses when they sit in front of screen for work, to shop, and to watch the news, movies, etc. It’s tougher to get people to believe that watching a movie on a large screen is a communal experience. - Ann Citron

The ideas have to remain fresh. Fortunately there’s always new people coming with new ideas. - Fatima Deen

We have to remain creative. - Georgette Mattel

Yes, challenges remain. Without fail, they will continue to present themselves. But, in case you haven’t noticed, the RTC and their merry band of volunteers is one hell of a fearless and persistent bunch.

www.rosendaletheatre.org 

In fond memory of Anita Peck, Richard ’F-Stop’ Minissali, and the Cacchio Family.


(1) Quoted from the film  The Movie House On Main Street (2018) - Directed by Teresa Torchiano
(2) Quoted from the film  The Movie House On Main Street (2018) - Directed by Teresa Torchiano
(3) Quoted from the film  Uncle Tony (2012) - Directed by Robert Clem