WICA goes to the movies! Langley theater adds feature films to repertoire

— Created October 14, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Feel like catching a classic film on the big screen? Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley may have just what movie-goers are looking for – it has transitioned from a live theater experience to a movie theater experience, at least for a while.

WICA is now offering screenings of classic films every Friday and Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon matinee through the end of the year, complete with popcorn and movie treats and even some adult beverages to enjoy while immersing oneself in the big screen experience. Movies begin at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 1 or 2 p.m. Sunday afternoons. Tickets may be purchased in advance at wicaonline.org or at the box office, although online ticket purchases are highly encouraged to cut down on lengthy waits in line.

It might seem strange to think of seeing a movie at the local community theater, but due to the pandemic and the havoc it has wreaked on the entertainment and arts community, WICA officials say the decision to make the temporary shift in focus was not difficult.

“At the moment, live entertainment is prohibited, but movie theaters are allowed to operate, so shifting to this platform was an easy decision,” said Verna Everitt, WICA’s executive director. “Our Whidbey Island Film Festival has proven to be a success for us and we are hoping this pivot will duplicate that same success. Our community appreciates not only first run films, but also has a great appetite for revival house cinema, i.e. classic movies or notable older films.”

When having to choose from a huge list of movies, Everitt said they narrowed the field by concentrating on three categories.

“Stage to screen, an incredible selection of films that were first introduced to audiences on Broadway and West End stages; the BIG! Picture, best picture Oscar winners; and Wanderlust, films that capture a sense of time and place and inspire us to pack our bags for worlds far away,” she described. “The rest was easy. Because we’re all film lovers here at WICA, we chose personal favorites that will be accessible for a large, diverse audience and a few jewels that will appeal to cinefiles.”

Included in some of Everitt’s favorites are “Ben-Hur,” “Stage Door,” “An Affair to Remember,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Doctor Zhivago.”

“It was great to discover Verna and I have similar tastes and to see when we brought very different ideas to the table,” said Deana Duncan, WICA’s artistic director. “Some of my favorites are “Sideways,” which we’re screening with a wine tasting; “Dangerous Liaisons,” a play we hope to produce in the future; “The Godfather,” “Finding Neverland,” my inspiration when I directed “Peter and the Starcatcher;” and I’m excited about Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” during our French Cinema weekend, especially after watching the new biopic, “Seberg,” about the lead actress Jean Seberg.”

WICA is known for staging premiere parties and the like for its stage productions, so it should come as no surprise there will be special events to accompany some of the classic film screenings. Through it all, movie snacks are a given.

“This is what makes coming to the movies at WICA such a treat,” said Duncan. “We have a full bar featuring Double Bluff Brewing Company and Dancing Fish Vineyards; wine tastings and physically distanced pre-screening parties; and of course, fresh popcorn with butter and gourmet toppings, favorite movie candy and a few other delicious snacks.”

Island County remains in Phase III of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan. Guidelines allow movie theaters to operate at 50 percent capacity in Phase III.

“Technically, 50 percent of our capacity is 123,” said Duncan. “With physical distancing, however, we anticipate roughly 80 film-goers during each screening.”

According to Everitt, as WICA begins its 25th year, they have used the shut down to make some needed improvements to the building.

“The community’s health and well being has driven our renovation priorities and has led to the decision that clean, healthy air must be a part of the WICA experience,” she said. “Our first major undertaking was the replacement of our aging HVAC with a new, germicidal UV light system that has a proven track record of reducing airborne bacteria, mold, odors and viruses.”

“We’ve reimagined the interior of the theater [as well],” said Duncan. “It now features physically distanced seating, tables for food and drink, two ‘boxes’ for pods of six or fewer people and additional aisles for easier, safer access.”

The film schedule can be found and tickets for screenings can be purchased in advance at wicaonline.org. Cost is $15 per person. The Halloween screening of “Night of the Living Dead” includes a pre-film party for $25. Organizers said while the price per screening is slightly higher than people may be accustomed to paying to watch a film, WICA staff hopes the film curation and the film-goers experience – comfortable seating, cabaret tables, special events and food and beverage choices – will be seen as “worth the price of admission.”

In the meantime, the films will get people back into the theater for an evening (or several) of entertainment, as WICA’s staff continues to look forward to providing live entertainment once more – sooner, rather than later.

“We were recently invited to join a working group led by the Washington State Arts Commission and the Governor’s office that is creating the guidelines and protocols needed to re-open the entire arts sector in our state,” Duncan said. “We are fortunate Island County is in Phase III and because of our committee work, expect to see a return of live lectures, staged readings and similar programming soon.”