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On an October evening in 1925, The Capitol Theatre hosted a grand opening with a showing of the feature film “The Coast of Folly.” More than 96 years later, the building located at 120 W. Emerson in Downtown Paragould is still the town’s most beloved place to gather for entertainment.
Now named the Collins Theatre, the property originally built by Bertig Realty Co. was purchased by the Collins family in 1936. Over the years, the theatre has played host to a medley of entertainment and events: movies, bond rallies, Sunday school classes, and the Belles and Beaus show. Today, the theatre is mostly used for live entertainment: concerts, plays, festivals and more.
The Collins Theatre is one of about a dozen historic theaters still operational in Arkansas. Holding onto its history is an important part of preserving its future. The charm of the building and lasting impression it has had on the many residents who have spent time here are worth, not just remembering, but continuing.
What is so special about the old theatre?
“It’s memories,” said manager Joy Robinsons, who practically grew up on the Collins Theatre stage. “It’s the future of The Arts. It’s entertainment for the community. Families have performed alongside one another during summer musicals. We’ve celebrated new life through marriage, and even remembered some of our own in death on this very stage. It’s memories. For many of us, it’s just our home away from home.”
Like many other businesses, the Collins Theatre has been dramatically affected by the pandemic, but the will to press on and maintain this local treasure has not been lost.
“The pandemic has been one of the most notable roadblocks the Collins has had to face in 95 years,” Joy shared. “As a non-profit, if we aren’t having shows, we aren’t making money. We immediately put our heads together to figure out how we could adapt and move forward.”
The Collins Theatre hosted Facebook LIVE shows after they closed the doors to the public for the safety of their community. The live streams continued until recently when attendance guidelines were adjusted. The organization received many donations, both from lifetime supporters simply wanting to help and those who were watching the shows on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Brown
“Our community took care of us and really showed us their support over the last year,” Joy said. “For us, we had no choice but to keep going. We were determined to keep going.”
So, what’s next for this nearly century-old community landmark?
Photo courtesy of Andrew Brown
The team (practically family) behind keeping the theatre going is eager to again host live events and has much in store for 2021. The lineup for this year includes the first Big Grass Bluegrass Festival July 23 and 24. In partnership with the Paragould A&P Commission and the support of KASU, the festival seeks to bring audiences from across the nation by featuring headliner Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, a Grand Ole Opry inductee, as well as five other Bluegrass artists.
The theatre also has plans to remodel the building next door to serve as a rentable reception and overflow space. “The Wessell Building”, named for Joe Wessell who has dedicated much of his time to the restoration and upkeep of the Collins Theatre.
How can people support this historic venue and help ensure it sticks around to serve many more generations?
Joy says there are many ways to help: “Share our posts, ‘like’ our pages, consider donations or sponsorships, and come visit us! We would love to have you as our guest!”
All photos courtesy of the Collins Theatre except noted those by Andrew Brown.
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