Checking in with the new Little Art Theatre director
- Published: April 29, 2023
Despite the uncharted landscape that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on public entertainment venues, the Little Art wants the community to know: Your hometown theater is still here.
That was the message imparted by the Little Art Theatre’s Acting Executive Director Katherine Eckstrand in a recent conversation with the News. From the Little Art’s warmly lit auditorium, she spoke fondly of the theater.
“When you walk in that door, it’s almost like magic,” Eckstrand told the News. “You feel like you’re accepted — it’s intimate, it’s warm.”
The Little Art’s board of directors announced Eckstrand’s hiring in a letter to the News in February; the Springfield resident was brought on board to replace former Managing Director Kristina Heaton, who, according to the letter, left the position in order to “focus on family matters.”
Eckstrand brings with her years of experience in working with nonprofits and arts institutions; her work includes time with the Ohio Arts Council and having served as executive director of the Clark State Performing Arts Center in Springfield from 1994 to 2005. While at Clark State, Eckstrand founded “Project Jericho,” an initiative that connects Clark County youth with visual and performing arts programming. For the last six years, Eckstrand has acted as a consultant to such arts organizations as the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and the John Legend Theater, as well as the Little Art itself.
Having grown up in Xenia, Eckstrand told the News that she visited the theater many times in her youth, adding that the Little Art was likely where she saw her first movie. From a young age, she said, she understood the importance of exposure to the arts.
“I have memories from as early as eight, where I recognized the power of the artistic or creative experience to transform life,” she said. “I’ve dedicated most of my career to helping people have that transformative experience.”
Eckstrand has hit the ground running with the theater, so to speak, transitioning quickly from consultant to acting executive director in an effort to, she said, “build sustainability for the theater.”
“COVID interrupted so many things for so many people and organizations,” Eckstrand said. “I won’t say we’re starting from scratch, but we’re redesigning processes and looking to make things more efficient and effective and find new ways to work with the community.”
Some of that effort includes reinstituting processes and programs that were halted during the height of the pandemic. Joining Eckstrand in conversation with the News were Marketing and Events Coordinator Caleab Wyant and House Operations Coordinator Victor Bonacore, who said the theater had just that day reimplemented its online ticket purchasing system — a service that, Wyant added, was sorely missed by patrons.
“I’ve had it up for less than an hour and we’ve already had five calls about it,” he said.
The theater has also recently reopened for private rentals, booking band performances, parties and even a recent engagement proposal: The Little Art team altered its marquee so it appeared that the soon-to-be-affianced couple had arrived just in time for the theater’s evening screening, when in fact they were a full hour early and about to be treated to their own private screening of a different film altogether.
“When they sat down, they watched the regular slides we have before each movie,” Wyant said. “Then it cut to a six-minute video [the person proposing] had made.”
Bonacore added, pointing to a back corner in the theater: “The photographer was actually hiding right there!”
In addition to bringing back previous services, the theater has also instituted new programming in the form of the “Throwback Series,” which features older films that follow a new theme each month. Last month’s “Best Picture Snubs” series, for example, timed to coincide with the Academy Awards, focused on films that were nominated for “Best Picture” awards at the Oscars, but didn’t win. This month’s “Spring Training Baseball Series” includes screenings of “Field of Dreams,” “A League of Their Own,” “The Sandlot” and “Major League.”
Wyant and Bonacore said the series has been a good draw for both locals and folks from far-flung places; they noted one family who drove more than two hours to see the 1985 adventure classic “The Goonies” on the big screen when the “Throwback Series” was initiated last summer .
“People love retro films,” Bonacore said, with Wyant adding: “We’re in the age of nostalgia.”
Wyant has worked at the theater for more than six years, and said Bonacore, a long-time friend, was the first new hire the Little Art made when it reopened in 2021 following two pandemic-related closures the previous year.
“When it came time to hire people, it was kind of a no-brainer to ask him first, just because I knew he would love it,” Wyant said.
“We basically just talk about movies when we hang out anyway,” Bonacore added.
The pair said their mutual love of film has infused their roles at the theater: Bonacore is a filmmaker himself — his film “Thrust!”, described as “Dayton Ohio’s first and only low-budget woke-exploitation girl-gang thriller,” debuted at the Little Art last year — and, under Wyant’s marketing guidance, he has put his editing skills to work for the theater, creating custom trailers for each of the monthly “Throwback Series.”
Bonacore has also begun filming weekly schedule updates hosted by one of the theater’s eight staff members; those videos are posted to the theater’s Facebook page. The purpose of the videos, he said, is not only to let folks know about upcoming events, but also to get them better acquainted with those who run the projectors and make the popcorn.
“Katherine said early on that she wanted this place to feel like ‘Cheers,’ but a movie theater,” Bonacore said. “We took that to heart — it is a community, and this is our staff.”
Eckstrand said the Little Art is aiming to further engage the community in the coming months. Though she couldn’t yet share details, she said the theater is “looking at the possibility” of debuting some film festivals. Looking ahead to summer, she said the theater also hopes to institute new youth and family programming. She acknowledged, however, that the nonprofit theater’s capacity for new programming is tied to its funding.
“We want to do more with the community — and that’s going to take a little money,” she said, and pointed to the theater’s “Friends of the Little Art” charitable giving program. “If you’re already a Friend or you just love what’s going on here and you have the ability to do it, you can donate any time.”
For those who would like to donate their time, Eckstrand added, the theater has also reinstituted its volunteer program, which offers participants the perk of free movie admission. There is currently one volunteer on board at the Little Art, and the theater is looking to fill out the roster; those who are interested in volunteering should email email@example.com for more information.
Wyant said he feels that, because of the combined love that both the staff and the community feel for the Little Art, he believes the theater’s future is bright.
“We’re getting better and better at curating [films] and seeing what works and what doesn’t work for the audience,” he said. “We’re all extremely motivated — we just want to keep going.”
Bonacore agreed, and said he hopes film-lovers will continue to support the enduring power of connecting with family, friends and neighbors before the glow of the Little Art’s screen.
“There’s just nothing like watching a movie in the theater,” he said.
For more information on the Little Art Theatre’s upcoming programming, go to littleart.com or facebook.com/LittleArtTheatre, or find the Little Art on Instagram @littlearttheatre.