BENSON -- Take a seat at the DeMarce Theater in Benson if you want to see what the future might hold for Main Street movie theaters in rural Minnesota.
That is, if you can get a seat.
The 320-seat theater was only a few seats shy of capacity when the DeMarce joined other theaters across the nation in hosting the midnight opening July 14 of the final Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two." Many who filled the seats for the 3-D movie had arrived at 9:30 p.m. for a showing of the two-dimensional, part one version of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.''
The seats are expected to be full this weekend and next week as well, as there is already lots of buzz in Benson about two unique shows coming to the stage of the DeMarce.
As it had done decades ago, the theater is opening its stage to live performance when it hosts poet/author/comedian Michael Shaeffer. He has performed at Fringe Festivals in Minneapolis and Kansas City.
A former Benson teacher now living in Fairbanks, Alaska, Shaeffer will poke fun at everyone from Sarah Palin to Tim Kletscher during a live performance starting at 9:15 p.m. today.
Tim and Susie Kletscher are the owners of DeMarce, and avid about both preserving the theater's traditional role in the community while also embracing the latest in technology and marketing.
"I hope it is the start of a new era there at the theater,'' said Shaeffer when reached about his upcoming visit.
Next, the DeMarce will play host to the first public pre-screening of an independently produced film, "Munger Road.'' Nick Smith, whose father, Jeff, is a 1973 Benson High School graduate, produced a thriller about a legendary and supposedly haunted stretch of rural road near St. Charles, Ill.
Smith is currently negotiating the possible sale of the film, but wanted to host a private prescreening for friends and those involved in its production, said Tim Kletscher. It wasn't long into discussions when the writer and director decided to open the doors for all in the Benson area. The screenings are scheduled at the DeMarce for 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. showings on Thursday and Friday.
"We're really trying to get other things going on here,'' said Kletscher of the many changes taking place at the theatre.
The biggest change is the theater's technological leap into the future. Last month, the theater installed a digital projection system with 3-D capability and a new 14½-feet-tall-by-20-feet-wide silver screen. A host of new Surround Sound speakers, and a subwoofer loud enough to straighten the leaves in every Swift County cornfield, means the theater can match the movie experience of any other theater in the country.
And like its competitors in larger towns and shopping malls, the DeMarce Theater is also hosting more first-runs of Hollywood's best. It's also turned to social networking, Twitter and Facebook, to market its product alongside mainstream advertising.
And yet, the more things change the more they stay the same. Longtime theater owner Larry DeMarce continues to manage the theater and oversees the showings most every night of the week. The DeMarce family had owned the theater since 1925, and Larry began his career running a film projector lit by a carbon-arc lamp.
Larry DeMarce said he remembers when the theater often hosted live performances by bands on its stage. He welcomes the return of live entertainment, and other efforts by the Kletschers to expand the theater's offering. "You've go to do these things,'' DeMarce said.
With support from the Benson community in the form of financing, Tim and Susie Kletscher purchased the theater in February from DeMarce and have been forging its new future. The community support and the continued involvement of Larry DeMarce have made it all possible, according to Tim Kletscher, a teacher in the Benson public schools.
But DeMarce said he believes much of the credit really belongs to his new boss. "He's a very hard-working man,'' said DeMarce.
For information on the upcoming shows, and advance tickets, contact the theater at 320-842-6871 or at demarcetheatre.com