Barrington cultural leaders hope to help iconic Catlow Theater
Leaders of Barrington's cultural community are floating ideas on how to boost business at the landmark Catlow Theater in the village's downtown.
Catlow owner Tim O'Connor has made public the 92-year-old theater's financial struggles and is asking for more business to keep it going. The Tudor Revival-style, one-screen theater has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.
Aware of the Catlow's situation, Barrington Cultural Commission members are suggesting events or other ways to improve the theater's financial standing. The 12-member volunteer commission is a branch of village government that coordinates and co-sponsors activities like the Barrington Independent Short Film Festival that was held Saturday at the Catlow.
Commission member Jack Schaefer said he recently had a three-hour meeting with O'Connor at the theater. which opened in 1927 with silent films and hosted vaudeville performances featuring stars such as Gene Autry and Sally Rand.
"If we can bring him ideas, he's receptive," Schaefer said.
O'Connor did not return a message seeking comment. However, in an email sent to customers in March, O'Connor said the theater's future is in jeopardy.
"I'm not asking for your charity or sympathy, just your business," the email reads. "Now more than ever, we need your business to stay in operation. I wouldn't bring this up if it wasn't so serious. I've always shared what's going on with you, so now there's this situation."
One preliminary concept from the cultural commission is a "Sound of Music" singalong over Thanksgiving weekend, Schaefer said. Chicago's Music Box Theatre has held a singalong for several years around Thanksgiving, featuring the movie with subtitles for the songs, plus other fun like a vocal warmup by the host before the film.
Schaefer said a distributor would allow "Sound of Music" at the Catlow if the cultural commission pays $2,500, possibly up to three months in advance. Under the proposal, he said, the company would keep 40% of revenue or $2,500, whichever is greater, with the Catlow and commission splitting the rest from what could be 300 to 400 tickets sold for each evening.
Commission member David Nelson said the Catlow is now receptive to being more than a movie theater. He said the roughly 500-seat theater can be booked for a birthday party, reunion or other gatherings.
"He's a great guy and he deserves our support," Schaefer said of O'Connor. "And everybody wants to keep the Catlow."
Barrington-area residents and others have stepped up for the Catlow in the past.
It took only seven days in 2012 for the Catlow to meet a $100,000 goal through the Kickstarter crowdfunding site for a digital projector required for new movie releases. The theater received 1,394 donations totaling $175,395 when the full 60-day campaign ended.
However, only $7,906 of a $40,000 goal was reached in 2017 for an all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign to help pay the costs of improving O'Connor's Showtime Eatery connected to the theater. Showtime, which the village approved for a $2,642 facade improvement grant in late 2017, replaced the long-running Boloney's Sandwich Shop.
Village President Karen Darch said while all businesses in Barrington are important, the Catlow is a meaningful part of the town's history.
"I think we kind of watch what's going on and help where we can and who knows what tomorrow will bring," Darch said.