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Jun
21
2024
Film

Caleab Wyant, left, was recently promoted to theater manager of the Little Art Theatre. Wyant succeeds acting executive director Katherine Eckstrand, who was appointed to that position by the nonprofit theater’s board of directors in February of this year. Eckstrand moves on to a new position with the theater, now serving in a development and community impact role. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

New Little Art Theatre manager is old hand

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If you’ve seen a movie at the Little Art Theatre anytime in the last six years and change, you’ll almost certainly have seen Caleab Wyant. He might have been selling you tickets at the window, or handing you popcorn from behind the counter. Maybe you had a post-screening chat with Wyant about “Phantom Thread” or “The Lighthouse” or “Barbie” — or any of the other hundreds of films he’s overseen as projectionist at the theater during his tenure.

Next time you go to the movies, though, you can join the longtime Yellow Springs resident in celebrating his new position at the Little Art if you greet him by his new title: Theater Manager.

Last week, the News spoke with Wyant and Katherine Eckstrand about the transition — a shift that also affects Eckstrand. Hired by the nonprofit theater’s board of directors in February this year as acting executive director, Eckstrand has also moved on to a new position with the theater, now serving in a development and community impact role that reflects her years of experience helming other area nonprofits.

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“The board [of directors has] hired me to focus on fundraising and grant writing,” Eckstrand said. “But I’m working closely with everybody, and I consider myself staff.”

Working closely with Wyant during her months as acting director, Eckstrand said, helped her notice his managerial capabilities “right away.”

“He’s good at getting everybody’s opinion and being respectful — and the staff really respects him,” Eckstrand said. “I have a certain set of skills that is helpful in transition, but I recognized that we needed something different.”

“It definitely feels like a baton is being passed,” Wyant added. “It’s pretty exciting.”

A dad to two former YS schools students and a current McKinney Middle School student, Wyant said that after moving to the village in 2009, like many, he hoped to find a locally based job — but as a longtime film lover, he specifically hoped to get a job in the local movie theater. In January 2017, he got his chance, taking the only open projectionist position available.

“When I started, I was working every Tuesday night, which at the time was Bargain Day,” he said. “Then I started working concessions every other Thursday.”

Though Wyant was working a full-time job outside of town while also working at the Little Art, he said he knew that the theater was where his heart really lay, and wanted to expand his role — even if just a little.

“I talked to [former Director] Jenny [Cowperthwaite] and asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do?’” Wyant said. “And she said, ‘We have a weekly newsletter — do you want to do that?’ And I said, ‘I would love to do that.’”

And he still does that — and has through all the other role transitions he’s undergone over the last six years. In addition to working as projectionist and concessionaire, Wyant has also been special events coordinator, helping schedule and oversee events outside of regular film programming; operations manager, keeping track of product inventory; and marketing and events coordinator, keeping the public up-to-date about what’s going on at the Little Art.

Eckstrand said she believes Wyant working his way through all these different roles was the perfect training for his current position: As theater manager, Wyant will be responsible for managing staff and processes and for all programming, events and marketing moving forward. At the same time, she said, she felt the time was right for both her and Wyant to take what they’d learned and move into the next phases of their relationships with the Little Art.

“I never thought I would stay [as acting executive director] for years — I thought I might stay as long as a year,” Eckstrand said. “But it just became obvious to me that the transition was ready to happen.”

Wyant added: “I feel like it happened in the best way that it could have because it’s just been such a nice transition to get to learn and feel confident in all of these areas.”

Wyant’s love of film — which he described as his favorite artistic medium, because it’s “a combination of pretty much every other art form” — extends outside of the theater. He’s acted in a few independent works, and as a musician — he’s the driving force behind Yellow Springs’ own YIKES A BAND — he’s also written scores for a few short films and one independent feature film, “Thrust!,” which premiered at the Little Art last year.

Wyant grew up in Kansas, Ohio — a small, rural census-designated place in Seneca County where the population last clocked at 175.  He described the area as “a tiny little bit of a town, and a lot of farmland.”

“And we lived in the farmland,” he said.

Living rurally meant there were no movie theaters in Wyant’s direct area as he was growing up — the closest one was about a half hour away in Tiffin, and he worked his first job there. Nevertheless, the young Wyant nurtured a budding love of film — particularly what he described as “arthouse” cinema, with an added love for horror films, and an even greater love for films that successfully blend both.

With those things in mind, Wyant said that moving to Yellow Springs fulfilled something of a longtime desire for him.

“I didn’t even ever really live in a neighborhood until I lived in Yellow Springs — I always wanted to live in a small town,” he said. “So just to live in a town that has a theater is amazing. For it to be an arthouse theater is even more amazing — as soon as I moved to town, I knew I wanted to be a part of it in any capacity. It’s surreal and incredible — I’m doing what I wanted to do.”

Wyant said working at the theater has checked some other boxes on his personal list of lifetime to-dos — he was able to schedule a series of films by Alfred Hitchcock, whom he said is one of his favorite filmmakers, when the theater first reopened after its initial COVID-19 shutdown.

“Seeing those in the theater was pretty incredible — especially ‘Psycho,’ my favorite film,” he said.

Likewise, Wyant was also able to rent the theater for his 33rd birthday party, which included a screening of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“It was great to see it at my favorite theater,” he said. “There was an Audrey II there — in the flesh!”

Increasing the visibility of the theater as a rental space for private events has been a special focus for Wyant this year as the Little Art continues to bolster itself financially. Wyant said that, since he’s worked to get the word out that the theater is available to rent, the use of the Little Art for private events by community members has gone up significantly.

“And what’s great about it is that it’s totally in line with our mission as a nonprofit — being of use to the community,” Wyant said. “But also being the Little Art Theatre — that can mean a lot of things.”

With an emphasis on the “art” in the theater’s name, Wyant said that, looking forward, he hopes to host a variety of special events in the auditorium — theater performances and live podcast recordings are some new ideas he thinks are possible. And some old and loved events will be coming back, too — Wyant was happy to announce that the Little Art’s annual New Year’s Eve party will be held again this year for the first time since 2019 became 2020.

In addition, patrons should keep their ears out for better-sounding film screenings and special events: Wyant said the Little Art is in the process of securing grant funding to upgrade its sound system.

“It’s gonna be a big deal for us, in terms of [event]-attracting potential,” he said.

Though he’s excited about the new developments on the horizon for the theater, Wyant said that, as theater manager, he intends to keep himself grounded by continuing to work projection and concession shifts when needed. In particular, he said he’ll continue to oversee Friday night projection, when new films debut.

“I want to see how it’s doing, but also talk to patrons immediately afterward and find out what people think of it,” he said.

At the same time, he said he believes the best way to keep in touch with staff members and understand their concerns is to know what it’s like to do their jobs — by continuing to do those jobs himself.

“I don’t ever want to lose track of how things run,” he said. “We already have a good, democratic, constant conversation of what’s working, what could be better, and the best idea wins — that kind of philosophy. Continuing to be a part of it, at least sometimes — that’s incredibly important to me.”

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