People don’t typically get paid in popcorn, but for some causes, exceptions can be made.
When artist Robin Thibodeau saw the Okotoks Cinemas appealing to the its audience to crowdfund new seating, she decided to add her brush to the mix.
Since its opening in 1996, the theatre has featured the same chairs.
An initiative to crowdfund new chairs began with a Jan. 21 Facebook post by Okotoks Cinemas which read: “We want to open back up when restrictions loosen, but these chairs make us sad and I think they make you sad too.”
It detailed plans to sell popcorn Fridays and Saturdays while closed, and was soon followed by the launch of a GoFundMe page and details about crowdfunding new theatre seats.
She frequented their Saturday night popcorn sales that have been aimed at maintaining some cash flow as the theatre remained closed under AHS restrictions.
“When the cinema started to offer popcorn pick up, I was all over that to help them stay alive," she said.
After reaching out multiple times about helping, the manager politely declined saying they couldn’t afford to pay her.
Seeing the value in visual advertising, Thibodeau volunteered her artistic skills to paint a mural in the front windows of the theatre on Feb. 27.
“When theatres were left out of the recent re-opening, I offered to do a window mural to get out the word," she said.
Thibodeau joked that they can pay her in popcorn.
A group of fellow artists rallied to help her as well.
She said the value of having a small town independent cinema shouldn’t go underestimated, compared to Calgary’s big theatre chains.
“They're what means the most to the community,” said Thibodeau, adding that she’s gone to the theatre since it opened.
She pointed out the theatre has also been a focal point for the town’s art community, playing host to the Okotoks Film Festival and its various events.
“You can't do that in big fancy franchises either,” Thibodeau said. “Because that would affect their scheduling."
General manager Amber Wigg explained while they had been saving up, COVID-19 all but drained any cash reserves that would have gone to new seating.
“It's been quite a while since we've needed some new seats,” she said. “We've been trying to save up and then COVID hit.
“We realized that people really want to keep a theatre in town.”
She added since starting the fundraising initiative, other businesses have contacted her to offer support and advice in her efforts.
“Businesses just started really coming out of saying we want to be part of this," she said.
“We want to keep theatre in town, we think you guys are great. That's really built my confidence in going forward with this project.”
The plan is for two types of new seats in the theatre, a significantly upgraded reclining theatre seat, and large VIP recliners.
The cost of the new seating for two theatres will be close to $75,000, and Wigg hopes they can have new chairs in by this summer.
The theatre still offers drive-thru popcorn and mini doughnut pick up Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Through the crowdfunding page, various packages are available for individuals or businesses to sponsor a VIP recliner seat in exchange for admission privileges or advertising.
More information about seat fundraiser and a link to the GoFundMe can be found at https://okotokscinemas.com/seat-fundraiser