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Drexel Theatre Embraces History and Change

Hope Madden Hope Madden Drexel Theatre Embraces History and ChangePhoto by Nicholas Herum.
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“We are truly a neighborhood theater,” says theatre director Kevin Rouch of the historic Drexel Theatre.

“There aren’t a lot of us left,” he laments. “But the other thing that we are is a total independent house. Other theaters are kind of being hybrids now, but we are truly programming for independent movies, and for that reason, we dedicate all of our efforts to finding, marketing, showing and performing independent films. I think distributors know that and they like us because we champion that niche.”

Rouch, a lawyer with a background in entertainment law as well as a love of movies, took on the role of Operations Manager in 2011. For two years he worked in tandem with the theater’s longtime proprietor, Jeff Frank, who, along with wife Kathy, created a permanent home for independent film in Columbus when they bought the theater more than thirty years ago.

“Jeff Frank really developed the Drexel brand and did a great job doing that,” says Rouch. “When he decided to retire, I picked up his duties in terms of programming. It’s been a challenge, but it’s really been kind of a dream come true to go to movies for a living.”

The theater itself has been around since Christmas 1937, according to Rouch. Originally a single screen, 800-seat theater, the building was converted to three screens in the early nineties to compete with the home video market, he says.

He says of the building’s history of programming, “It’s been various things: wide release, first run movies. It’s been a dollar theater in its history. Now we think of ourselves as the premier independent movie house in the area, because that’s what we concentrate on.”

The theater has seen a lot of change in recent years, including its move to non-profit status in 2011, when Friends of the Drexel, Inc. acquired it from the Franks, turning management of the theater over to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA).

“When you become a non-profit, you add a mission that’s just a little different,” Rouch says. “You really become a community resource as well as a movie house. We take that very seriously, providing community services to the Bexley area and, in fact, all of Central Ohio.”

Rouch points to partnerships with other non-profits and local businesses, community outreach programming, and facilities rentals as part of that mission.

“For example, we do a film festival each year for Bexley Middle School, where they make shorts and come in and show them,” he says. “We’ve really got a dual mission.”

The more obvious half of that mission involves day to day programming.

“We like to bring documentaries and foreign films, independent features whenever we can, in addition to special programming,” he says. “We keep an eye on things as far out as we can.”

“Our challenge is only having three screens,” he says. “We have to be right on as much as we can because we can’t park a movie in our 8th house or our 12th house. So, when we program, we have to be out in front of the curve to know what fits our audience or the audience that we’re trying to get.”

Rouch likes to bring in special programming that might interest a crowd that hasn’t given the Drexel a chance in the past.

“The SciFi and horror marathons bring in a different fan,” he says. “And they’re among the best in each genre in the country.”

Other unique programming includes the cult phenomenon The Room.

“I inherited The Room,” Rouch laughs. “No one would call that a good movie, but people have a lot of fun.”

The alternate programming is one way Rouch tries to overcome modern challenges to maintaining an audience.

“If you like independent movies, there’s a lot of ways to see them,” he says. “Not only do we compete with other theaters, but we’re getting competition from people’s phones and tablets and laptops. We’ve got to convince people that they’ll enjoy what the experience is like in a theater – in our theater.”

It’s a challenge, but one Rouch is eager to tackle.

“We’ve got a lot to do,” Rouch says. “We’re going to keep working to make movies better, programming better, facilities better – and if we can do all that, we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Here are some of the Drexel’s offerings. Tickets and showtimes at www.drexel.net

  • Only Lovers Left Alive (D: Jim Jarmusch; starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston)
  • Fading Gigolo (D: John Turturro; starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone)
  • The Railway Man (D: Jonathan Teplitzky; starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard)
  • Fateful Findings, midnight Saturday, 5/24
  • The Room, midnight Saturday,  6/14
  • Fright Club: Funny Games, 11:30 pm, Friday, 6/20

A full slate of movie reviews is available on my website www.maddwolf.comYou can also follow me on Twitter @maddwolf and like me on Facebook at facebook.com/MaddWolfColumbus .

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