People’s Bank Theatre screens silent film for packed house

Photo by Michael Kelly Laughter echoed through the Peoples Bank Theatre on Friday night as a capacity audience enjoyed a free showing of a Buster Keaton silent film, accompanied by theater organist Dave Calendine.

MARIETTA — Buster Keaton, with the aid of a world class theater organist, packed them in Friday night at Peoples Bank Theatre, starring in a silent film made almost a century ago.

A botany student is awarded an electrical engineering degree by mistake. He attempts to rewire a millionaire’s house. A lot goes wrong. That’s really all you need to know to start imagining the silent film night at the theater. Add in the deep throated sound of a theater organ playing along and laughter from the audience.

The event took the recently-restored theater back to its roots, when it opened in 1911 and was known as the Hippodrome. In its early years, it was known for featuring silent movies, as well as plays and traveling live acts. After a fire claimed the original theater in 1919, it was rebuilt. Opening eight years before the advent of talking films, the site had its own five-piece orchestra play along with the silent movies.

Those in the packed theater Friday said they enjoyed traveling back in time for a night.

Pete and Gisela Kegley came from Beverly for the show.

Photo by Michael Kelly Organist Dave Calendine plays a medley of Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes to a full house at the Peoples Bank Theatre on Friday night.

“I really enjoyed it, a lot of fun,” Pete said. “I saw a lot of these shows when I was a kid. It’s the first time I’ve been here since it was restored. I used to come here for movies.”

“The Electric House” was a feature made in 1922 by the peerless Keaton, co-starring several of his family members. The first attempt at the film two years earlier was scrapped after Keaton broke his leg while attempting a stunt sequence on a staircase, and the film was shot from the beginning when he recovered.

The idea for the evening came from Jim and Sylvi Caporale, owners of American Flags & Poles on Front Street.

It was a gesture of gratitude to the community. Theater marketing director Drew Tanner said the Caporales rented the theater and allowed free admission for everyone.

“It’s a huge thank-you to everybody for helping so much during the storm,” Sylvi said. When the river flooded in February and water rose downtown, people – more than 100 – arrived at American Flags & Poles and helped them empty the entire store, she said.

Photo by Michael Kelly A free showing of a Buster Keaton silent film, accompanied by a theater organ concert featuring Dave Calendine, filled the Peoples Bank Theatre on Friday night.

Luckily the water flooded only the basement, but if the river had gone up another six inches, it would have inundated the main floor, she said.

Friday’s festivities involved more than the 22-minute Keaton film. The was also the theater organ music, provided by Dave Calendine on an organ owned by the Caporales.

Calendine came from Detroit to give the evening a soundtrack. A Warren native, Calendine is the house organist at the Fox Theater in Detroit and plays organ at Detroit Red Wings and Lions games. He is chairman of the board for the American Theater Organ Association.

To start the evening, he played “76 Trombones” followed by some Disney tunes, then a medley of Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway show music.

Outside the theater, band organs and hand cranked organs played downtown Friday as part of the festivities. The Caporales both are organ aficionados and spent several weeks setting up the event.

Photo by Michael Kelly A free showing of a Buster Keaton silent film, accompanied by a theater organ concert featuring Dave Calendine, filled the Peoples Bank Theatre on Friday night.

“It adds a lot of enthusiasm, and there are people coming to town,” Sylvi said, noting that one of the cruise sternwheelers is docking in Marietta this weekend.

During the intermission, George Heidorn said he and his wife, Ruth, come to the theater often.

“She loves it, comes here every chance she gets,” he said. “We saw the Texas tenors here, ‘Guys and Dolls.'”

Michael and Ginger O’Connor of Marietta said they’re silent movie and theater organ fans.

“I like to come here and support the theater,” Ginger said.

It was the third time Judy Lambert of Parkersburg has been to the theater.

“It was a lot of fun, and I learned a few things,” she said. “That Broadway music was wonderful.”

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