Vaska will turn 70 years old
The term movie magic was not coined by mistake. People have always treated film as a kind of miracle. Cinema legend has it that in 1896, during one of the first public screenings of a film, audience members panicked as they watched a train barreling toward the screen. Francis Ford Coppola even once famously compared movie makers to magicians.
For residents of Lawton, a name has been synonymous with movie magic: Vaska.
The Vaska Theatre opened on March 4, 1948. When it was founded at the corner of Northwest 19th Street and Ferris Avenue when 19th street was still just a dirt road.
The Vaska was a premiere theater through the 1970s. It received all the newest films and latest technology. Then, in the '80s and '90s when multiscreen theaters were gaining in popularity, the Vaska became a second-run theater. Later, after most film companies stopped recognizing second-run theaters, the Vaska became a discount theater.
Justin Hackney started working for the Vaska in 2003 at the age of 18.
"They stuck me out there in the box office," Hackney recalls. "When I first started we were still 99 cents. So it was my job to give them their ticket and a penny."
Ten years later, in 2013, Hackney took over as owner of the theater. He had big dreams for the Vaska and immediately set to work trying to bring his vision to life.
"We wanted to do more than just movies. We wanted to utilize the stage some and bring in some acts," Hackney said. "And we've done that. It's been a lot of fun. We've had shows from Branson, comedy acts and we've done a lot of shadow castings and interactive showings."
Due to recent developments in technology, the theater business is getting harder and harder. First-run theaters are struggling, and for small, niche theaters like the Vaska, it can be especially difficult.
"It's hard for a discount theater. You have to look at the angles, and look at what more you can do. My goal was for everyone to be talking about the Vaska again," Hackney said.
This year the Vaska is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Hackney is giving the theater a proper send-up.
"Seventy years; We figure we have to have a big blowout," Hackney said.
Starting on Friday and running through the theater's official anniversary on March 4, the Vaska will be throwing a weekend-long celebration.
Over the course of three days, Hackney plans to have multiple events, including a shadow cast showing of "Little Shop of Horrors." During a shadow cast show, a full cast on stage and in the audience will act out the movie while it plays in the background.
The theater also will bring in "Carpenters Once More," a tribute act to Karen and Richard Carpenter.
On March 4 the theater will show "The Lawton Story, or, Prince of Peace," a movie that was filmed in the Holy City of the Wichitas in 1949.