Ricks Centre gets a renewed focus on events

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GREENFIELD — The H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts may soon have events posted on its marquee every weekend — at least if its new event programmer has his way.

Tony Seiler, the longtime owner of Greenfield Music, said he recently signed a three-month contract to program events at the historic theater.

Seiler has a rich history playing and promoting music in the area. He’s an active fixture at his music shop, and he plays in three bands. Last year, he started booking concerts for 2022 for the Greenfield Parks Department for the new Depot Street Park’s concert lineup. He also oversees the entertainment lineup for the Riley Festival.

Seiler has already booked two bands to play at the Ricks Centre, 122 W. Main St. But he says the former movie theater, which is owned by the nonprofit Hancock County Visitors Bureau, is a fantastic venue for much more than just concerts.

“We’re going to do movies, plays, dance recitals… all that kind of stuff,” he said. “My goal is to be able to use it every weekend, but it’s going to take a little time to get that up and running.”

Dave Scott, manager of the theater, has been in charge of booking events at the theater for years. His status is unclear.

Scott and Seiler referred questions about the arrangement to Sarah Kesterson and Sarah Wolf, members of the visitors bureau board. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Like entertainment venues everywhere, the Ricks Centre has been hit hard during the pandemic. Local theater and performing arts groups, which have made up a significant portion of the theater’s bookings, went on hiatus and returned to the stage only in the past several months. The new arrangement will help the theater diversify its lineup. It also is designed to help bring more people to downtown Greenfield, which has long been a goal.

The owner of at least one nearby business can hardly wait.

“That theater has such potential to be more utilized to bring people to our beautiful downtown,” said Jayne Hoadley, whose Greenfield Chocolates shop is just a few storefronts east of the theater, on the opposite side of Main Street.

“People love that theater, and to have regular events there would be absolutely awesome,” she said.

Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said a reinvigorated effort to increase use of the theater is a good idea.

“Although I do not have first-hand knowledge about the amount of days the Ricks has been used in the past, it will be exciting to see the re-focused efforts for this downtown gem,” she said.

Livengood said the historic theater can be a great asset, especially for the downtown commercial district.

“It could be an attraction to draw others to our community… I would hope that at some point, someone could be the point person to keep the facility used,” she said.

“I might assume that it would take a full-time person who is constantly helping to educate all to the amenities that are at the Ricks, (for) not only music and entertainment but community meetings, debates, strategic planning and much more.”

Seiler feels the theater, donated to the community by the Strahl family for use as an arts center when they opened their Legacy Cinemas complex in the early 2000s, is a historic icon worth taking care of and sharing with the public as much as possible.

“I want it to be a happy, welcoming environment, and we’re working on that,” he said.

The art-deco theater was built in 1946. The visitor’s bureau and Scott oversaw a major renovation, and it reopened to great fanfare in September 2006.

In 2020, a nonprofit formed to support the theater, Friends of the Theater, raised $35,000 to install a new marquee and lights. Last month, the group raised more than $6,000 to install a wheelchair lift for the stage.

Longtime Greenfield resident Gwen Betor said she’s attended a number of events at the Ricks Centre over the years and would love to see the theater’s marquee lit up several nights each month.

“I just marvel at the theater. It’s a wonderful place,” she said.

As a board member for both Greenfield Main Street and Greenfield Historic Landmarks, Betor can appreciate what an asset the historic theater is to the city’s downtown commercial district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The theater’s architecture is just beautiful, and so many people have such great memories of going there over the years,” she said. “It’s such a great piece of history right downtown. I think it’s a wonderful goal to have something there every week or every weekend.”

Debra Smith, executive director for Greenfield Main Street, agrees that a vibrant theater can be a boon to the downtown.

“I think that (booking regular events) can only be a positive for the community and the businesses downtown. With regular events going on it will bring more people downtown, which will hopefully equate to more money being spent locally at our restaurants and shops,” said Smith, adding that she’d love to plan more Greenfield Main Street events at the theater.

“I know that when we were showing holiday movies (at the Ricks), we had multiple people comment that they wish it was used more often,” she said.

Seiler has no doubt the Ricks can be just as popular as other nearby small-town theaters — like the Artcraft Theatre in Franklin and the Strand Theatre in Shelbyville, both of which host a rotating lineup of vintage movies, comedians and other entertainment.

The Greenfield theater is also a great venue for weddings, conferences and private parties, he said.

EVENTS COMING UP

Local musician and music promoter Tony Seiler has been hired to program events at the H.J. Ricks Center for the Arts in Greenfield this year.

He’s booked two concerts for the first quarter of the year so far, and hopes to eventually have the theater booked every weekend.

Regional band Southern Distinction will play at the Ricks on Jan. 29.

Comedian Stratton Smith will take the stage Feb. 19, followed by a Wilkerson Dance Studio performance on Feb. 20.

The Brandywine Wind will perform there in March, as will a local band whose date is yet to be determined.

The Ricks center is a restored 1946 Art Deco style theater that started out as a movie house, but has evolved into hosting a variety of plays, concerts and other events over the years.

According to its website, the 386-seat facility features professional lighting and sound capabilities for live productions as well as a cinema quality audio-visual system for multi-media and cinematic presentations.

The theater, at 122 W. Main St., is located in the center of Greenfield’s historic district downtown.

For information, visit rickscentre.org.

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