“More Than the Movies”
With its glowing marquee and art deco façade, the Dietrich Theater is a local landmark in downtown Tunkhannock. This nonprofit movie theater is open 365 days a year, providing everything from films to fine art to the public.
Beyond the blockbuster movies, the theater also serves as the Wyoming County Cultural Center and hosts programs like independent film festivals, art classes, and exhibits. In an average year, they present over 350 cultural events and serve over 80,000 children and adults.
A strong sense of community runs deep at the Dietrich, from the touch of nostalgia at their annual, free showing of It’s a Wonderful Life to the excitement on the opening night of each film festival. They proudly claim to have the best popcorn around (yeah, it’s that good), but even more, they’re honored to bring a world of arts and culture to the rural Endless Mountains.
The Story of a Small-Town Theater
Community members rallied to revive the Dietrich.
“New, Modern Theater: Air Conditioning, Perfect Sound, Comfortable Seats,” the ads boasted when George Dietrich opened the theater in 1937. Over 1,500 people visited on opening weekend just to see this modern marvel.
The theater thrived for over fifty years, until the ‘80s and the rise of mall cineplexes. Like many small-town movie theaters, the Dietrich closed down and fell into disrepair.
Without the theater, Tunkhannock just seemed to be missing something. In 1998, a group of local residents teamed up in a grassroots, planning-around-the-kitchen-table sort of movement and decided to purchase and renovate the theater. By 2001, it was back up and running as a two-screen movie theater. They began hosting cultural events like concerts, history presentations and art classes shortly after.
The Dietrich is thriving once again, and it only continues to grow. In 2009, they expanded with two more screens and a green space outside. Today, they have four theaters, two art studios, a children’s room and rotating exhibits and galleries lining the lobby.
The Show Goes On
Through the ups and downs, supporters always stood by the Dietrich.
From the devastating flood of 2011 to the current health crisis, the community always seems to come together to help the theater weather the storm.
“When we had the flood of 2011, 300 volunteers came out, and they contributed over 8,000 hours of work to the theater. Eight men worked for three months for forty hours a week as volunteers to bring the theater back,” said Erica Rogler, the Dietrich’s Executive Director. “We’re seeing that kind of response now with COVID.”
During the statewide shutdown, the theater was closed for more than three months. Supporters kept the Dietrich afloat with fundraisers like curbside popcorn sales and a benefit dinner at the theater’s next-door neighbor, Samario’s Pizzeria.
In June, the theater began to safely welcome visitors back to the movies. Most studios have pushed back their release dates, so the theater is mainly showing classic films and family favorites (although they have been able to get their hands on a few new releases).
Embrace Your Inner Film Buff
Everything from blockbusters to Broadway shows light up the silver screen.
Sure, you can catch the latest box office hits, but the Dietrich offers more than the mainstream, Hollywood movies. This little theater is known for their film festivals, which started as a once-a-year celebration and grew into a three-week-long event held every season.
“We bring in 21 films in 21 days, so that’s 84 foreign and independent films a year,” explained Rogler. “That’s more than most art house cinemas play in a given year.”
They also host mini-fests in between the seasonal festivals.
“Our audience is craving more stories. The movies are about shared experience, and what I’ve learned—especially with our film festivals—is that people leave here talking about the movies together,” said Ronnie Harvey, General Manager and Film Booker.
The Dietrich makes sure that everyone can enjoy the show. They hold movies with closed captioning on Sundays and offer special equipment for those with vision and hearing impairments.
In addition to movies, the Dietrich also presents Broadway shows, concerts and other stage productions onscreen. These events give people a first-row experience without paying sky-high ticket prices or having to travel to New York City.
Arts for Everyone
Classes, events and exhibits are both educational and entertaining.
Beyond their onscreen offerings, the Dietrich also offers art classes and cultural programs. Classes in drawing, painting, mixed media and theatre give children the chance to explore the arts, while adults can join for jewelry making, quilting, open studio sessions and more. The pottery workshops are a favorite for kids and adults alike.
The theater has added extra class sessions to meet social distancing requirements and respond to an increased demand.
“It seems like there is a hunger for cultural programming right now, especially for the kids,” said Rogler. “A lot of them aren’t going to school full-time, and parents want a safe outlet for their kids to use their imaginations and their creativity.”
They also host yoga classes via Zoom. The Chair Yoga programs have been especially popular during the pandemic. The classes provide the benefits of yoga without having to get on the floor, which makes it popular with the older generation.
The Dietrich believes that the arts are for everyone, which is why they keep their classes affordable and offer need-based scholarships. Visit the theater’s website for a complete list of events and registration details.
Show Your Support
Community support helps keep the arts alive.
“Coming to the theater is not only just about going to see a movie. It’s also supporting the classes and the programming that goes on,” said Harvey. “We have a nonprofit status, so everything outside of paying for the bills that run the theater all goes back into the community to provide arts and specialty programming.”
Come see a movie. Sign up for a class. Consider making a donation or becoming a member. You can even rent out a theater so you and your friends can enjoy your own private movie. Your support helps the Dietrich keep the projectors rolling for years to come.
Know Before You Go
The theater is going above and beyond to meet all federal and state safety guidelines.
Masks are required when entering, exiting and navigating through the building. Every other row of seats are blocked off to ensure a safe social distance. Capacities are limited, so the Dietrich recommends buying your tickets in advance online to ensure that you get a spot. Call or check online for the latest updates.