ELIZABETHTON — The switch from film to digital projectors has led theaters like the Bonnie Kate Theatre and Cafe, which was built in 1926, to make the tough decision to either find a way to show new movies or find another way to entertain.
Owners Brian and Cindy Higgs may have found one solution by hosting a weekly Teen Night at the theater, 115 S. Sycamore St., which includes live music, dancing and opportunities for teenagers to meet new friends.
Last Friday night, teens were lined up outside the theater, quickly finding their own group of friends and talking to others as they waited for the doors to open.
Charging just $5 per teen, Emilee Nidiffer, vice president of marketing and operations, was busy greeting and collecting the money from the teens and marking their hands to show they had paid.
Nidiffer said the check-in process is essential to their Teen Night operations.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority and we want to stress that absolutely to our parents. We’ve got ... trained professionals, we’ve got a security intern ... and we have a check-in,” she said. “We get parent information, their name and we also have a liability release form that they sign. Then we have a check-out. No one leaves this building or enters this building without documentation.”
Inside, the teens huddled together, heading to concessions to buy a drink or to get some food.
“We realize that teenagers are always hungry,” Nidiffer said. “We have like pizza and corn dogs and macaroni and things like that that they can order from the kitchen and that starts up around 9 o’clock. We also have Powerade and water and we have Pepsi products, as well as gum and candy. We do sell slushies, as well as energy drinks.”
Further back in one of the building’s two theaters, kids shuffled into what was once a dark viewing area to a dance venue with flashing colored lights and popular everyday hits blasting from the speakers.
Alexa McAdams decided to try out Teen Night on Friday after a friend told her about it.
“My friend was coming and she said it was fun, so I decided to come,” McAdams said.
She said she was excited to dance and said she felt like Teen Night was a positive step for the community.
“I think it helped with the money issue and then it’s just where kids can hang out and have fun in a safe place,” McAdams said.
Brian Higgs said the Bonnie Kate has held three Teen Nights and there had not been any problems.
“We’ve had about 250 to 300 kids each time. It keeps growing every week. Most of the kids are behaving themselves and the neat thing about it is we’ve got about four or five different schools coming together ... so getting them to know each other from different schools, getting kids to introduce themselves is a new thing,” he said. “My thing is just trying to make sure the kids have a fun place to come and where they can be safe.”
Nidiffer said each week Teen Night will have a new theme, and tonight they will host a sweetheart dance.
“There’s going to be a little bit more stricter dress code. It’s going to be more of dresses and collared shirts ... just to change it up a little bit,” she said. “It’s important as a young person to push yourself out of your comfort zone because you’re going to be doing that for the rest of your life. This is just a great opportunity for them to show up ... bring a friend or come by yourself and make friends. It’s fun.”