Like any old venue, the Regent Theatre in Picton, Ontario has experienced its fair share of (alleged) supernatural activity: cash boxes flying off shelves, cold spots, inexplicable sensations. But until now, it didn’t have a resident spirit to call its own.
“There’s lots of anecdotal stories, third hand, you know, ‘My friend’s brother worked there in the projection room back in the ’80s, and he was working alone one night and felt a cold breath on the back of his neck,’” Regent Theatre board chair Benjamin Thornton tells Boxoffice Pro. “But no one story stuck.”
To rectify that, Thornton decided to hold a “Ghost of the Regent” contest, allowing patrons to support the nonprofit venue—which hosts both first-run and repertory films as well as live events—with a $25 donation in exchange for a chance to win “the perpetual right to haunt the theater” after death. All donations for the contest, which wrapped up on Halloween, went to the Regent Theatre Foundation’s Raise the Curtain campaign, which set a goal of raising $250,000 for much-needed infrastructure projects at the 102-year-old venue.
In all, Ghost of the Regent raised $4,500, thanks in part to an assist from Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson, who cut a spot for the campaign after the Regent reached out to him through the service Cameo, which allows people and organizations to request custom-made videos from celebrities. In the spot, Hudson—in character as Winston Zeddemore—makes a solemn promise not to “bust” the theater’s future spook.
“He was a really good sport about it,” says Thornton, who notes Hudson made the video at a reduced rate for charity. “Considering that we’re just a small town theater in Canada, he really sold it.”
On Halloween night, a winner was crowned: local crime writer Ryan Aldred, who has “pledged to support the theater in life as much as he [will] in death,” says Thornton. To make the transaction official, Aldred received a certificate, a duplicate of which will be hung “in a place of honor” at the Regent—presumably for as long as it stands.
The contest was an imaginative ploy to add to the coffers of Raise the Curtain, which was launched in August amid a coronavirus pandemic that has kept the theater’s doors closed for eight months. Thornton says the Regent has since invested in equipment to host live streamed events, but, while they’re having “growing success” with those programs, they simply can’t make up for lost box office revenue.
Aside from that virtual programming, the Regent has survived mainly via cash reserves, government relief programs, foundation grants, angel donors and local small business sponsors. But the costs of maintaining the century-old venue have continued to mount, prodding the Regent’s board to set Raise the Curtain in motion. At least so far, it’s paid off, with the campaign bringing in roughly $100,000 over the last three months.
Thornton says getting creative with fundraising efforts is a necessity in a climate of “donor fatigue,” with an avalanche of causes competing for attention during a time of great suffering and uncertainty. Still, he maintains that the Regent and other cultural venues are worthy beneficiaries.
“The arts are important,” says Thornton. “In the long run, every community needs some kind of creative outlet.”
Not to mention a good ghost.