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Strand Theater hosting packed holiday slate

Pedestrians walk past the Strand Theater in Zelienople
Pedestrians walk past the Strand Theater in Zelienople. Butler Eagle File Photo

In today’s world of mega-multiplexes, instant streaming and smart TVs, the Strand Theater in Zelienople proves that there’s still room in the entertainment landscape for the classic movie house.

As it has each year since its reopening in 2009, the Strand is holding a marathon of holiday shows from late November through December, including classic Christmas movies and original stage shows.

A theater reborn

The original Strand Theater in Zelienople closed during the 1980s after decades of operation dating back to the silent film era. The former movie house stood vacant for more than two decades, while multiple parties reached out and expressed interest about using the space, only to back away.

Finally, in 2001, the Strand Theater Initiative was formed as a nonprofit, seeking to raise money to restore the theater to a condition where it could host shows once more. It took half a decade for the initiative to raise the necessary $2.5 million, but work on renovating the interior of the structure finally began in 2007, and the Strand reopened to the public in 2009.

Today, the Strand features both classic movies and the occasional live stage show. The theater houses close to 300 seats and features an HD-quality digital projector and 39 surround speakers for movies.

As a “cultural center,” the Strand can’t show blockbuster films at the same time as major theaters such as AMC and Regal — at least, not until they’re out on home video. The theater did show this year’s megahit, Barbie, in November.

The holiday schedule

From Dec. 7 to 10, the featured film will be the 1947 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart.

The Christmas season at the Strand will conclude when it presents “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” on Dec. 22 and 23.

Ron Carter, executive director, said the theater keeps track of trends to determine its annual holiday movie schedule.

“For the rest of the year, we watch box office trends and review what classics might generate interest from the local community,” Carter said. “We do our best to mix up the styles and genres to appeal to a wide demographic base.”

While some of these films are run every December, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life”; others are rotated out on an annual basis. For example, each year, “Elf” swaps places with “A Christmas Story,” and vice versa.

“Usually, this would be the year we’d run ‘A Christmas Story’ instead of ‘Elf,’ but the studio pulled the license for ‘A Christmas Story’ as they’re putting it back in theaters for an anniversary screening,” Carter said.

Mixed among the classic Christmas movies are two wholly original, limited-engagement stage shows that can’t be found anywhere else.

On Dec. 15 and 16, the Strand will present “Yule TV’s Greatest Hits,“ a musical tribute to Christmastime television specials from the 1960s and 1970s. This will be followed on Dec. 16 and 17 by ”It’s a USO Christmas,“ a musical tribute to star-studded USO variety shows from the World War II era.

According to Carter, a portion of the proceeds from the latter will be donated to the United Services Organization, a charity benefiting active-duty service members and military families.

“We draw patrons from 17 Pennsylvania counties and 17 states due to our wide variety of live programming, much of which is exclusive to the Pittsburgh market,” Carter said. “These are original productions that we’ve been producing almost since the Strand reopened and can only be seen here.”

The Strand Theater in Zelienople
The Strand Theater in Zelienople has about 300 seats. Butler Eagle File Photo
The future

The revived Strand Theater, as it stands today, is still at only the first phase of its construction. Carter said there are more plans for the future, as soon as they are able to acquire the necessary capital.

The initiative owns a building next door and uses it as the theater’s cafe and box office. As part of the next phase of construction, the Strand plans to tear down that building in favor of a stage house to support the theater’s original stage shows. Enhancements are also planned for the theater’s parking.

“On the back of the property, we have a two-level parking deck planned,” Carter said. “On top of the parking deck will be a multipurpose center for black box theater, dance and acting classes, and private functions.”


It’s a Wonderful Life

7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 to 9

2 p.m. Dec. 10

YULE TV’s Greatest Hits

7 p.m. Dec. 15

2 p.m. Dec. 16

It’s a USO Christmas

7:30 p.m. Dec. 16

2 p.m. Dec. 17

Christmas Vacation

7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23

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