By Celeste Benzschawel
Historic Elitch Theatre has announced the return of its Outdoor Summer Films series and the First Friday History Tours after four years of postponed in-theater programming.
This summer’s films will take place on the front lawn every other Friday from July 8 to Aug. 19. The theater’s operators have selected an all-musical lineup of films, including “The Greatest Showman,” “Sing 2,” “In the Heights” and “Encanto.”
Attendance to the films will be free, as donations from RE/MAX covered the costs. Donations will be accepted to continue raising funds for future restorations. Historic Elitch Theatre will provide entertainment starting at 7 p.m. that will include bands, karaoke and trivia. The films will start around 9 p.m. when it gets dark outside.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Greg Rowley, the theater foundation’s board president. “There is absolutely no barrier, anyone can come. We can all get out of our houses and enjoy a movie together.”
Rowley has been volunteering on the board on and off since 2012. He also served as board president once before in 2016-17 as the theater was celebrating its 125th anniversary. In 2018, the theater sustained storm damage to the roof, leaving a hole and a myriad of other problems.
The theater was unusable for the next two years as a result, and as plans for repairs were underway, COVID closed the theater for another two years. Along with repairing the damages, which included replacing the roofs of both structures and replacing drywall, the theater’s interior had to be repainted and restrooms were added.
Future renovations will include theater rigging, lighting, and sound. Rowley said he is hopeful that once the next phase is complete, they’ll be able to begin hosting productions. But for now, the foundation board members are excited to get summer programming started again.
The film series, which started about 15 years ago, began as a way to feature stars of the silver screen like William Shatner, Grace Kelly, and many others, Rowley said. The screenings featured many older, classic films that performed well for a niche crowd, he added.
When the foundation began featuring modern films and new releases, they found they increased the crowd from 100 to 400, with a lot more children and families in attendance, Rowley said.
“It’s a very neighborhood-oriented event, and in fact that’s another big shift we’ve taken with our programming,” Rowley said. “Our role is to be more local and on an affordable scale.”
Other summer programming will include partnering with The Curtain Playhouse in Wheat Ridge to host summer theater camps for children. The foundation is also partnering with Red Rocks Community College to have students play key roles, like Mary Eltich, during the First Friday History Tours.
When asked what he’s looking forward to most, Rowley said, “All of it! I absolutely love it and I have so much fun.”
The Historic Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation’s scheduled Outdoor Summer Films are: July 8: The Greatest Showman, July 22: Sing 2, Aug. 5: In The Heights, and Aug. 19: Encanto. A schedule of events can be found at historicelitchtheatre.org.