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ON THE SCENE: Are the Hollywood’s best days ahead?

The Hollywood Theater in AuSable Forks is becoming the Ausable Theater. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The Hollywood Theatre in AuSable Forks is being transformed from a two-screen movie house back to a single hall venue that can showcase films, dance, concerts, and a lot more.

Nearly 100 years ago, much of downtown AuSable Forks was destroyed by fire. One of the first significant investments made to help rebuild the downtown was the opening of the fireproof Hollywood AuSable Theater, a venue that local leaders hoped would stimulate investment into rebuilding the town center and bring year-round entertainment to the community.

In 2020, now divided as a two-screen theater, the Hollywood closed, a shuttering caused by COVID-19 and a dying furnace. New residents Chris and Jerod Heidrick, then taking over a funeral home, decided to invest in the Hollywood. Simultaneously developing two enterprises proved to be a bit much, so they abandoned pursuing the theater, focusing their energies on their core business.

Not long after, Jason Andrew and Norman Jabaut stepped in purchasing the Hollywood with the vision of turning the movie theater into a 1930 Vaudeville-style multi-performance house with film becoming one of many attractions. As a means of branding their new approach, they renamed the Hollywood Theater the Ausable Theater.

“We saw that the building was for sale; it’s this beautiful old theater that we’d been in to see movies,” said Jabaut. “We knew that behind the screens was the lovely old stage that we thought would be perfect for the kind of events we like to produce that we’d been doing for years in our yard, skating rinks, Walmart parking lots, and other venues. So, we thought, why not do all that in a theater that’s ours.”

Jason Andrew and Norman Jabaut onstage at the Hollywood Theater in AuSable Forks (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Jabaut grew up in Harkness and went to school at Peru Central. Eventually, he roamed around, first in Montreal, then Paris and Amsterdam, before ending in New York City. Increasingly, the arts became an essential part of his life, with no thought of getting into producing events until he met Andrew.

“My introduction to the world of the arts was through my ballet teacher Julia Gleich at the University of Utah,” said Andrew. “She still collaborates with us. We met at the University, and our paths stayed connected, which is very exciting as she has an exciting company, an interesting aesthetic that’s very different from what traditionally defines ballet. She’s always trying to push that envelope.”

Gleich is known for exploring and indeed challenging the relationship between traditional and contemporary dance and for collaborating with artists of other artistic disciplines, mathematicians, and scientists, amongst others. In 2004, Gleich and Andrew co-founded Norte Maar for Collaborative Projects in the Arts, supporting innovative and educational collaborations amongst artistic disciplines.

This focus on collaboration within and beyond the arts is the core philosophy that Andrew and Jabaut have in mind for the Ausable Theater. They are excited about joining with such relatively new ventures as Keene Arts, the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, the Tahawus Cultural Center located next door, along with other arts organizations and the diverse array of artists living in the AuSable River Valley.

“Our vision is to create a multi-discipline arts center,” said Jabaut. “Film for sure, but we like live music, live dance, live theater. We also to activate the front of the building with a permanent art gallery and a coffee shop on Main Street. It’s also to help develop the AuSable River Valley as an arts destination. There’s already a strong base for the arts that we want to build upon and help celebrate. We know and love the Recovery Lounge, Keene Arts, and of course our neighbors at the Tahawus Cultural Center.”

Dance Concert emcee Tippy Gurley (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Leaders of the other arts organizations are equally excited about their taking on the Hollywood and their artistic and collaborative vision.

“I couldn’t be more excited about Jason and Norman’s plans for the Hollywood,” said Rebecca Kelly of the Tahawus Cultural Center in AuSable Forks. “I think it will be a very versatile and perfect place for the community. I think it will be a perfect fit. Today we hosted all of their dancers so they could rehearse in our studio. One day, they’ll just pop next door and do their performance there. There is a real synergy of their being a part of the community, one we will do what we can to help grow.”

The other side of their vision is making the arts more accessible and welcoming. While Jabaut grew up in Harkness, a hamlet with no cultural organizations, at least the richness of Plattsburgh was down the road. Andrew had less than that. The arts were not a part of Andrew’s life growing up. They didn’t become a focus until he moved to New York, where he studied art history and eventually became an agent for visual artists, helping them connect with galleries and helping families manage an artist’s estate and become a performing arts producer.

“I grew up as a kid that was pretty much deprived of art,” said Andrew. “I didn’t grow up in an artistic family or have access to museums, galleries, theater, and concert halls. I did fall in love with the movies, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I had a grandfather that was very much into those old movies.”

Andrew and Jabaut want to make the arts accessible and welcoming and change the narrative that it’s elitist and only for the very few. To that end, they held their first event under the banner of the Ausable Theater on the lawn outside their Jay House barn this past weekend. Free and open to the general public, it featured ballet and contemporary dance performances from Rebecca Kelly Ballet of AuSable Forks, Emerge 125 (formerly the Elise Monte Dance) based in Harlem and at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, and the Brooklyn-based Gleich Dances and Konverjdans Ballet. Emceed by the explosive Drag persona Tippy Gurley, the Dance Concert started with a bang and built from there to the wild enthusiasm of a large audience.

Craig Brashear and Rebecca Kelly, co-founders of the Tahawus Cultural Center in AuSable Forks (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I wanted to knock them out of their seats,” said Andrew.

They achieved that goal with people clamoring for more. No less enthused are many local business owners in AuSable Forks.

“I’m excited,” said Susan Cassevaugh, owner of Art & Antiques Shop. “I feel AuSable Forks is on its way up.”

To stay abreast of their progress in renovating the Hollywood and future performances, sign up for their newsletter at their website www.ausabletheater.com or their Facebook page.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)