At almost a century old, the Royal Theatre in downtown Trail has never looked better.
Thanks to owners/operators Lisa and Jason Milne, the grande dame of Kootenay theatres was given a major makeover during the coronavirus-forced eight-month shutdown.
“Across Canada there are a lot of theatres that won’t open back up, in the smaller towns that don’t have the support, so it’s in really dire straights right now,” explained Lisa Milne, who took over operations of the theatre in 2009, breathing new life and community interest into the aging structure.
Built in 1927 as a live theatre, the Royal has been a favourite destination of Greater Trail families for 93 years, with the latest and arguably most impressive version opening just two weeks ago.
“I wish I had done it a couple months ago, but we couldn’t,” Lisa told the Trail Times. “But absolutely, the response has been amazing. I have actually had people in tears when they arrived, they were just so glad to be out.
“And while they still maintain that space, that bubble, they still have that feeling of community, which is exactly what we need right now.”
The Milnes were incredibly proactive during the pandemic, when essentially all movie theatres had been shuttered and no films released due to COVID-19.
They seized the opportunity to undertake a major renovation, transforming an aging interior into a state-of-the-art entertainment icon.
“It wasn’t just dreamt up because of the pandemic, definitely it is something we wanted to do, but it was going to be a more phased approach.”
The Milnes installed a brand new HVAC system, expanded the lobby, and moved the washrooms.
The theatre walls were stripped to expose original brick-work three-stories high, and they traded out the old screen for a technological marvel, a curved 3D screen about the size of a football field.
“The curved screen gives you a completely immersing experience,” said Lisa. “The centre of the screen actually follows you as you’re watching the movie, and at 50-feet, we’re the largest screen outside of Calgary and Vancouver.”
But the pièces de resistance are the 146 massive, single and double, leather reclining chairs with drink holders, which replace the old-style movie seats.
“We’ve known for years that these are what people want,” said Lisa. “We have to get you out of your comfy couch at home, and come down here and have our delicious homemade popcorn, and watch the latest movie.”
She is trying creative ways to keep the business viable including adding more showings in the form of matinees, streaming Trail Smoke Eaters games, bringing in older films, and renting the theatre out to groups and organizations.
The Royal Theatre also looks forward to the day it can resume showings of the Metropolitan Operas, Bolshoi Ballets, musicals, and art house pictures.
The renovations not only realized a small dream for the Milnes, but also provided a gift for the Greater Trail community.
Not only will watching newly released films be an amazing experience, residents were also able to scoop up the old chairs and add a keepsake to their rec rooms or front porch, and the renovations also employed a number of local workers during a very difficult time.
The result speaks volumes, for it wasn’t until the screen went up and the scaffolding came down that the Milnes could truly appreciate what they had accomplished.
“We haven’t been able to turn on our equipment for seven months,” Lisa said. “The day we put some trailers on and it worked, I just stood here in tears, and said, ‘That’s exactly what ‘she’ wants to be. This is what this building was built for, and she’s in the happiest place ever right now, it’s just amazing.’”
While the pandemic continues, so will protocols within the theatre.
The Royal’s capacity is capped at 50 people per showing, so patrons are asked to purchase tickets online, or otherwise risk the show being sold out when they arrive at the box office.
In addition, the Royal is offering tours of the theatre to anyone who would like to view the new upgrades and/or ensure it is safe, sanitary, and socially distanced.
“We’re offering tours for people to just take a quick look around and see, so that they can understand when they come to the movie, how we are trying to keep them safe.”
For those attending, masks or face coverings are required in the lobby, but movie-goers can remove them once seated. Masks will be available to purchase if you do not have one.
Children under age five are not required to wear a mask.