Morris Theatre Gallery Exhibit Reflects Theatre's History, Impact on Community

Morris Theatre Gallery Exhibit Reflects Theatre's History, Impact on Community

By Tehya Wachuta, Feature Editor originally published in Issue 6, Volume 30 of The University Register on Friday, December 8, 2017

On November 28, the Morris Theatre celebrated its tenth anniversary under ownership of the co-op with a gallery exhibit in the Stevens County Historical Society. The exhibit displayed old film reels and original seats from the theatre, and also projected a short film that students from UMM’s CMR Digital Production class created. For many attendees, the exhibit not only reminded them of how the theatre used to be, but also how integral it is to Morris’ community.

“The Morris Theatre means a lot to me,” said mayor of Morris Sheldon Giese. “It’s a huge asset for the community, for the university, for the local area.”

For Susan Gilbert, the theatre made Morris feel more like home.

“I moved to Morris in 1991, and growing up, I went to the movies a lot. So when I moved to Morris, it was like that bit of my life from outside of Morris came into Morris,” she said. “I’ve been going to the theatre since we moved here, so to help keep the movie theatre going and keep that part of my life going is really cool. I’m an artist, so I’m very interested in visual things; watching movies is very important to me, and being involved in what’s going on in the culture, and you have that right here in Morris.”

Gilbert finds that the audience is just as much a part of the theatre experience as the movie itself.

“I’ve been in the audience when there’s a huge audience there, and it can make the horror films creepier when people are reacting, and the comedies funnier,” she said. “When we had the classic film festival, Lawrence of Arabia was one of the films we showed, and it had an interval. So at the intermission, everyone came out to buy more snacks, and we stood around talking about what was going on so far and what was going to happen, and our experience of it and the surprises, and that something so old was still so effective. And then we went in for the second half at the end and when we came out we were talking again about what was going on in this movie. It’s that community that gets generated by going regularly and seeing people and sharing experiences together.”

Morris Area High School teacher Thomas Howden remembers that same community effect from his time at UMM, and still finds that feeling in the theatre today.

“Back in the early ‘90s when I graduated here, going to the theatre with my entire dorm floor were really good nights,” Howden said. “We had a blast watching Tremors on a blizzard night because we knew everybody and it was a campy kind of movie.”

Over two decades later, UMM sophomore Sara Carman also enjoys visiting the theatre with a large group of friends.

“I really enjoy watching movies, so that’s an obvious plus [to the theatre], but every single time I go to the movies at the Morris Theatre, I’m not alone,” she said. “It’s not a movie I’m watching by myself; I’m with a big group of friends and we all grab one row and we’re all enjoying the movie together. We always go to a movie we know we’ll all enjoy, so everybody’s having a good time, and it’s really fun to go out together as a group.”

The Morris theatre has not only provided a fun environment for college students, but for younger children as well.

“It’s been a great theatre to watch my kids watch the Disney movies,” said Howden. “I love how the firemen will buy a movie and give truck rides. It’s back to that sense of community; I like that aspect. And I get to meet a different slice of people. As a teacher, you’re in with parents who have kids, and this isn’t necessarily the case — it’s a getaway where I can go and do something I don’t typically do in the status quo day.”

Howden also finds that the small-town aspect of the Morris Theatre allows for a more personal atmosphere.

“It was my clown costume that I got engaged in 27 years ago that was used for the IT piece. That’s the thing about a community theatre,” he said, “you can’t do things like that at the big box megaplexes. We can get away with stuff like that in this kind of theatre. It gives another creative juice to the world.”

UMM senior Andrea Wathanaphone has also been able to observe the theatre as part of a small town, and working on the video helped her to see how much the theatre matters to the community.

“I volunteered there over the summer and you would see people coming from out of town to Morris just to come see [a movie] with their families, especially the children’s movies, you’d see all the kids in one car,” she said. “It’s really great to see not just the Morris community, but surrounding communities coming together. Now that we worked on the video project, we learned how much it’s valued in the community; it brings generations of communities together.”

Resident Gary Wahl also believes that the theatre adds to the Morris community.

“On a small-town scale, it adds the same sort of thing that having a sports stadium does for a large metropolitan area,” he said. “It’s a place where we don’t have to drive 45 minutes in a blizzard to see a movie. We can go and see it downtown.”

Jenny Nellis thinks that Morris would be diminished without the theatre.

“I think Morris would be sad without it,” she said. “It links us to the larger world. We can see movies here that everybody else has seen. I think without it we would be a sadder place.”

Historical Society Museum Curator Hannah King feels that the theatre completes the town.

“It’s nice to have something like [the theatre] in such a small town because it makes [Morris] feel complete,” she said. “You don’t have to leave to do everything you want; you can still go see a new movie and get groceries and things like that. Even though it’s rural, it doesn’t feel isolated.”

Kate Sauers agrees that the theatre enhances the community.

“Sometimes people think of Morris as this really small place out on the prairie, but it’s more than that,” she said. “The theatre is just a fantastic thing to have in the community. In a small community like this, it’s a place for people to gather, and we’re just so blessed to have something like that in a town like this, where people of all ages can enjoy.”

As many memories as the Morris Theatre has provided for the community, many more are to come. The theatre is currently building a second screen, and there will be a film festival in February.