Those in charge of the Coyote Twin Theater in Vermillion have a positive outlook on the future of the business despite recent hardships.
Shannon Cole, executive director and marketing manager of the Vermillion Cultural Association (VCA), spoke on the Vermillion Chamber and Development Committee’s (VCDC) virtual Coffee Hour on Jan. 6 about the theater’s status.
“We will be able to stay alive until movies come back,” Cole said. “By the skin of our teeth, but we will be here. We will be here when movies come back and it’s so good to be able to say that because it really wasn’t certain for a while.”
In a press release in October Cole had announced that as of Nov. 2, due to delays in film releases, low movie attendance, and an increase of COVID cases, regular movie theater operations were rendered impossible.
Luckily, the community stepped up.
“My God, Vermillion, you have done so much,” Cole said. “I am almost speechless about it. We started a campaign just after Thanksgiving to do what they could to contribute to our Coyote Twin Theater Recovery Fund and folks stepped up. My mailbox was full every day for two weeks with people contributing. It was really incredible.”
According to Cole, the VCA also received a fantastic donation from the Vermillion Community Foundation.
“They have made it their mission during this COVID time to help save the arts and cultural experience in Vermillion and they’ve donated to several arts and cultural organizations in town and we were a recipient,” Cole said.
According to Cole, between donations, special events and popcorn sales, the theater has been able to get by even though the screens have been dark.
“We have to sell $1,200 of popcorn a month in order to help pay bills and we’ve made it every month,” Cole said. “With all those contributions we’re going to be able to recover.”
The theater was able to premiere “Wonder Woman 1984” starting on Christmas and just finishing Jan. 17.
Seating was at limited capacity with masks required and rows blocked off for social distancing.
According to Jason Thiel of the VCDC, even with the COVID precautions in place, it still feels like a movie-going experience.
“I have to plug the theater experience,” Thiel said during the Coffee Hour. “I think it’s unbeatable. First of all, popcorn, really good popcorn. Second of all that shared experience of sitting in a movie theater with your fellow community members, it’s just unbeatable. It’s something Disney plus cannot replicate.”
Cole pointed out that even at-home movie watchers can enjoy at least part of the experience until it is more safe to come back.
“If you want to watch a movie at home you’re more than welcome to come purchase popcorn from us,” Cole said. “The magic of watching something larger than life unfold in front of you isn’t going to be something that is going to go away. You’ve probably heard a lot of doom and gloom articles come out in the past year about will cinema survive, will the exhibition experience survive? It has been a battle for individual theaters to survive.
“Our theater in particular as a small two-screen cinema, it got scary for a while about whether our physical business would survive but I think the exhibition movie-going experience at large, I think that’s safe,” she said. “I think people will welcome going back to the movies when it’s safe to do so.”
As a draw for locals and university students alike, Cole and Thiel both look forward to when movies will grace the screens of the Coyote Twin again.
“I believe, and perhaps I'm biased, but I believe theatres are the keystone of downtown,” Thiel said. “They’re part of what attracts people down here but also what attracts students to USD. As long as they can have a movie theater it’s worth coming.”
“I can’t imagine having gone through college myself without access to a movie theater,” Cole said. “But then regionally, because the Yankton theatre closed in July of last year, we are the only first-run movie theater within 30 miles of Vermillion so there’s a lot riding on us. I’m projecting out to May or June when movies might come back but we can make it till then by the skin of our teeth. That’s really exciting.”
Now that the run of Wonder Woman is over including some free screenings for university students, Cole said the screens will once again go dark but that does not mean the activity around the theater will stop.
“We’ll be focusing on some other things,” Cole said. “Primarily our big project every spring is Fool’s 48, the 48-hour film production. I’d call it a festival but it’s more like a sprint. You write, produce and film the movie in 48 hours. That will be the weekend of April 2 and then we will do the virtual premiere screening of the films on April 5 but we wanted to start talking about it now in January because we will have some lead up programming.”
Cole said the VCA will be working with the Vermillion Public Library on some video instruction specifically for teens in hopes of recruiting some local high school students and teens for the project.
“So mark your calendars for April 2, get your team together, be thinking about it because it’s happening,” Cole said.
Thiel shared his excitement for Fool’s 48 having seen the level of talent in the past.
“I am blown away by the talent in this town, especially with what someone can do with just a cell phone,” Thiel said. “The movies they can make, it’s incredible.”
Cole shared how community members can both see what the specifications are for the project as well as view last year’s entries on the Fool’s 48 Facebook page or at https://www.vermculture.org/fools48.
Cole also shared information about an ongoing series started last fall called “Imagining Community,” a series of artful endeavors designed to create cultural engagement.
“So far that has been a sculpture walk downtown where we have learned about the different sculptures and how the cast iron process works, stuff like that as well as introductions to some of the murals that have cropped up around downtown,” Cole said. “We also want to do things like trying to have an opera performance from a rooftop in Vermillion. We have to wait till it gets warmer for that one.”
The piano that appeared outside Wynie Mae’s is also one of the Imagining Community contributions, according to Cole.
“All of this is supported by a Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant, so we have a little bit of money to work with in order to support artists doing these kinds of things in our town,” Cole said. “I don’t have any dates specifically but I want people to keep a lookout for the Imagining Community logo and label because those things will be popping up within the next couple of months.”
VCA has been doing its fair share in supporting the arts with mutual benefits during the pandemic including holding a popup shop inside the Coyote Twin Theater with local arts and crafts in December.
“Our gallery was entirely transformed by Michelle Mechling under the auspices of her Davida Art Company,” Cole said. “She made it into an actual store. It was incredible. We had jewelry and hats and scarfs and wreaths and pottery, everything from local artists.”
The joint effort between Mechling and over 20 local artists in the First Dakota Coyote Gallery served as not only a chance for local artists to display and sell their work but also as an extra fundraiser for the Coyote Twin theater which received 20% of the profits for its recovery fund.
According to Cole, the recovery fund received $700 from the popup shop—an amount she said certainly exceeded all expectations.
Every contributing artist sold something during the month-long popup, and several were asked to replenish their stock or hurriedly make more to meet demand.
“This was a perfect event to meet the needs of both the local artist community and holiday shoppers looking to shop safely and locally,” Cole said. “We're definitely putting it on the gallery calendar again for December 2021.”
The participants also reported satisfaction at the event.
"What a wonderful opportunity for both artists and community,” said Pam Kadous, who sold fabric arts including bags and masks. “I'm very happy with my sales. The gallery is a great space!"
Hannah Mosterd, owner of bas & ben agreed.
"This was such a great opportunity to all local makers to showcase their items while supporting our community at the same time!” Mosterd said. “I was honored to be part of it."
Grace Freeman, owner of Prairie Moon Herbs, also stated her appreciation.
"Exciting to see all the work our community is doing in their studios!" Freeman said.
The success of the popup market brings to light the fact, as Cole pointed out, artists and craftsmen are still at work though many public events have been canceled this past year.
“Just because we have to stay home more doesn’t mean that art stops, doesn’t mean that creativity stops,” Cole said. “In many cases it has really blossomed and we want to be able to showcase that.”
Cole shared how in discussions with Amber Hansen, she realized how even if it’s not in direct response to what’s happening, it is interesting to see what grows in periods of rest.
“I think of that a lot because while I have to fight to keep the movie theater alive there were things percolating and I do see some long term goals for our organization that I'm not sure would have come up if we didn’t have this down time to think about it,” Cole said. “Artistically and creatively those things are true as well.”
Cole said the VCA hopes to bring the First Dakota Coyote Gallery to life as a gallery this year with May being the first projected exhibit, barring unforeseen circumstances.
“We still have to figure out hours but you will be able to come enjoy local artists’ work and we hope to set up virtual talk-back sessions to have sort of a virtual reception with the artists too so people can talk to the artists about their work and thank them for sharing, etc.,” Cole said. “Kind of like our old mixers used to be but online. Like a zoom happy hour version of a reception.”
Until normal events can continue safely, Cole said the VCA is dedicated to promoting community engagement in whatever way they can.
The Coyote Twin Theater is also still available very flexibly for private rentals which can be for up to 25 people, of course trusting that all involved are safe and wear masks.
Renters can watch a movie of their choice, with the exception of Disney and Disney affiliate titles, or hook up a video game system and enjoy big-screen gaming.
Cole again recognized the community’s part in keeping the theater alive.
“I don’t know how to properly convey how many thanks I have,” Cole said. “Thank you everyone for your financial donations, your good feelings and emotional support, for liking and commenting and sharing on our Facebook and Instagram. Keep up with us on those social media places because again you’re going to see things come out about imagining community endeavors, stuff about Fool’s 48 so follow us...
“We want to still be present and visible in the community although we’re not a regular movie theater right now. We’re trying to grow our footprint and still bring entertainment and still do good and offer you guys like I said our full endeavors even though times are different right now,” she said.
For updates, follow @vermculture or @vermtheatres on both Facebook and Instagram or check out their website at vermculture.org.
Inquiries about donations to the theater’s recover fund can be sent to email@example.com or through a facebook message on either page.
Visit cinemasafe.com to learn more about precautions theatres are taking to keep you safe.
Visit vermculture.org/rentals for information and forms to fill out for private theater rentals.