By Jasmine Willis
DANSVILLE — Growing up I was moved around from one small town to the next. I was always looking for the familiar comforts of home.
Five years ago, as a reporter coming into this new town, I looked for those familiar places. One thing that caught my eye right away was The Star Theatre. I was delighted that Dansville had its own theater. That was always a big deal for me as a child growing up in Wellsville. I would visit the Babcock Theater.
I imagined that this small-town theater was magic to those who grew up under its lights as well. I imagined that this little town I would call home loved this theater as much as I loved the Babcock Theater down in Wellsville.
There were a lot of things about my new home that made it feel like my hometown. It had a familiar vibe of community, magic, and history that interwoven made me feel like a part of its fabric.
It wouldn’t take long before I would meet the guy behind the curtain. The Movie Man himself… Edgar Schmidt. Edgar became one of my favorite people in this town very fast. He was so loving, kind, and full of acceptance. He loved this little theater more than anything. I would do a walk with him through the walls of what appeared to me an old Opera House and hear from him how his family purchased the theater in the 1990s. How they brought it back to life. How he couldn’t wait to celebrate the 100 years of her beauty in this small town. I would hear about the importance of going from film to digital. I would hear about the excitement over the opening night of a new movie. I would hear about the other events he would do such as weddings, school functions, community events, and other ways to give back to the town he loved.
This was the guy we all loved and called The Movie Man. He gave us all a place to go. He saved everyone’s childhood from being taken a part. He believed in the power of films. He believed in the good of others. He even gave the youth of the community a place to work. I would see many of them working behind the stands on the snacks, tickets, and popcorn.
Yes, it is safe to say we all know The Star Theater as the place Edgar Schmidt called home for many years. It is now run by his long-time partner Jennifer Howe and sister Lois Furioso.
Back in the birth of this theater on June 4, 1921 it must’ve been a sight to behold. It was operated by the Martina Family for many years. James Martina operated it in the start for a long time. Vincent Martina, his son took over after that for many years to come. Imagine all of those who went to this brand-new theater on downtown. Opening day when it was the silent film era must’ve been pure magic. It played 35mm Black and White Silent Films in its humble beginnings. It would go on to dazzle the community until the 1980s when it would have a quiet end as the doors closed. Many believed this would be the end to a long run of entertainment and childhood memories of a small-town life.
However, there was a family who believed in the power of bringing those childhood dreams back to life. In 1994, the Schmidt Family reopened the doors to this theater. It got all the upgrades and equipment that was needed to project a new generation of childhood memories. It did its latest upgrade in 2012 with the digital projection and digital surround sound.
What was nice about this very special theater was that it kept the history alive. It didn’t just toss it away in a bin of the past. We still saw how much care went into the old chandelier that hung in the middle of the ceiling. We saw the Opera House looking pink boxes that looked like they once housed important leaders of America. We saw the old-fashioned piano that once played for the silent films. It was all still alive and well with a pulse of the old film era mixed with the new. That is what made this theater such a delight to visit for every generation. We did not throw out the old generation’s memories in favor of a new one. We kept theirs all safe and sound as we paved the way for new ones.
That is why when The Star Theatre turns 100 Years old on June 4, 2021 there will be no dry eye in the house. Everyone has a connection or a moment to this theater that lives and breathes inside their hearts. It will continue to live inside them for many years to come. Happy Birthday Star Theatre! We will all be here for you when you open your doors again. We will continue to show up for those opening nights. We will enjoy the taste of the special movie popcorn. We will hold onto our memories of The Movie Man. We hope that when the big day comes it will spark joy and love in the hearts of an entire community.