The Oaks Theater in Oakmont to become performance arts venue
The Oaks Theater wants to provide more lively entertainment.
Long an anchor to Oakmont's business district with its classic single-screen theater, The Oaks is converting to a multi-purpose performance arts venue.
Renovations to the 76-year-old building are under way as the theater changes to better accommodate live performances such as concerts, speeches and comedy acts.
The theater will continue to show movies, according to co-owner Meg Burkardt, but more intermittently and with a stronger focus on cult-classic and independent films.
“We wanted to offer a different type of experience,” she said. “It's difficult to compete with the 10-screen multiplexes when you're just screening films. The shift to digital filmmaking also really made us take a hard look at the future of the theater.
“So we wanted to do what we've always done, and go for a crowd that's looking for something more than your typical shopping mall experience.”
To help guide the theater though its transformation, ownership hired a new manager with experience in business and entertainment.
Joe Wichryk II, a former Beaver County bar and restaurant owner who works with comedy troupes like the Cellar Dwellers out of Rochester, Beaver County, and the Pittsburgh-based Hustlebot, is working to have the theater's transformation complete by September.
Theatergoers will recognize the changes immediately upon entering the building.
The concession stand that now dominates the lobby will be replaced with a full-service bar, at which patrons can take advantage of the theater's liquor license.
And where now stands an adjacent rotunda will go a small platform, possibly with a piano, to stage musicians as they perform cocktail music before the main shows begin.
The entranceway's walls and carpeting will all be replaced, Wichryk said, to reflect a cabaret-style parlor, rather than a movie theater lobby.
“We want that entranceway or lobby area to look very elegant and refined,” he said. “I think it's going to be a place that pops and looks very distinguished. It will be a place that people really want to sit down to enjoy some music and a cocktail.”
To seat those people, a terrace will be built into the left hand wall of the entranceway with a handful of coffee tables.
People will not only be able enjoy a drink at the tables, but can also order a meal as the theater looks to build a kitchen in the second floor near the projectors.
To maintain both bar and kitchen, Wichryk said, the theater will likely add between 10 and 15 employees this fall.
“We're definitely going to need more people,” he said. “We want to be able to support the kitchen and bar and, obviously, we have to take care of the entertainment side of things as well.”
In the theater itself, the last six rows will be removed and the ground leveled.
A lounge area replete with tables and stools will take its place.
And against the back wall, they'll build a small stage for “smaller and more intimate performances.”
The larger acts will take the main stage, which will be built in front of the theater's single screen.
Management and ownership are still undecided on how The Oaks' classic marquee will change. They've already decided to shift to a digital display, Wichryk said. But what will become of the four vertical letters that spell the theater's name remains up in the air.
“With the additional acts we're going to have here, it's just not practical to stick with the analog marquee,” he said. “We're going to try to maintain as much of the original feel as possible. We don't want people to think we're completely changing the theater. It's going to have the same type of classic feel it always has.”
According to co-owner Marc Serrao, there's one thing about The Oaks that will never change.
Once the realization sunk in last year that the theater's digital projector couldn't keep to the standard of newer films, ownership ran through a gamut of possibilities to keep The Oaks relevant.
He said they seriously considered the possibility of converting the theater to a multiplex with three screens.
“But then we said, ‘We can't mess this room up, it's so beautiful,' ” Serrao said. “We knew we were going to keep the art deco style, and definitely the oak leaf lights that line the theater wall.”
Brief closing probable
The theater last week canceled all weekday showings to expedite its transition.
Wichryk said they'll continue showing the Moonlit Matinees — typically classic films — on weekend nights for as long as possible. It's doubtful the program will continue through August, he said, since a brief closing is probable prior to the grand reopening.
The closing will be needed primarily because of electrical upgrades to accommodate the live bands the theater hopes to attract.
“This is going to be a venue for local artists to showcase, where they don't get opportunities elsewhere,” Wichryk said. “Whether they're musicians, comedians, guest speakers, actors or filmmakers, it's going to be a spot where people from all over the area can come and enjoy some great local talent.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 7 in custody after New Kensington drug raid
- Harrison woman dead in 3-car crash in Natrona Heights
- Armstrong County to try Welshman on indecent assault, related charges
- Stretch of Freeport Road rezoned
- New Kensington officials eager to demolish 3 fire-ravaged buildings
- Kiski Area sells school building
- Allegheny Valley board reduces transfer to $1.5M
- Most wanted fugitive caught in New Kensington
- Fawn fugitive Filous captured, jailed
- Sears at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer closing in January
- Cookies for Our Troops marches on