UPDATE as of 6/29: An investigation is underway into a fire at The Ohio Theatre, which resulted in smoke and water damage. The theatre will be closed during repairs.
It was opening night, and Chuck Requet, senior mechanical engineer for LG&E and KU, wondered how many people would show up. He had two jobs that night: serving drinks and running the projector. The movie was "Charade" — a 1963 classic starring two of film's biggest icons, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
The historic Ohio Theatre, with its glittering white marquee, is a fixture on Main Street in downtown Madison, Indiana. Rebuilt in 1938 after a major fire, the weather-worn building far surpassed the age of the movie that night. Suffering from years of neglect, it was in danger of becoming an eyesore.
"It was pretty run down," said Chuck.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, who both have lived in Madison most of their lives, started thinking about trying to save the old theater in 2016. Elizabeth owns her own marketing company, and Chuck has a background in construction.
"When I got out of college, I started renovating houses on the side, and Elizabeth is a movie buff," he said.
Somehow, it all just made sense. They teamed with a group of friends and formed a nonprofit organization — Friends of the Ohio Theatre — and bought the building.
They faced quite a few problems from the start. There was an old film that they didn't know how to get off the projector. The audio board quickly overheated and they had to grab a big box fan to try to keep it cool.
"The biggest complaint was that the building was dirty," said Chuck. "We worked hard and cleaned a lot."
Then, after a lot of time and money, it was opening night. Chuck, Elizabeth and a handful of volunteers hoped their work would pay off.
The people came. They filled more than half the theater, settled into their seats and slipped into a world of nostalgia and charm. And when the movie ended, the audience exploded in applause.
"Everybody claps at the end," said Chuck. "It's so rewarding. You get to see smiling, happy people."
Now, they're running cult hits like "Dirty Dancing" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The Ohio Theatre also features live shows, with concerts from local artists as well as high school musicals and plays. The theater has no paid staff, but about 80 volunteers do everything from repair work to running the concession stand.
Chuck says nearby restaurants and businesses tell him they really notice a boost when a show is playing at the Ohio.
"We do about one show a week or one every other weekend," he said. "But we don't have air conditioning in the theatre yet, so we'll have to wait until the weather cools off again for more shows."
All the proceeds go right back into maintaining and restoring the theatre. Elizabeth is currently writing grants and raising funds to transform the theater into a state-of-the-art, multi-use arts facility, including expanding the seating from 300 to 500 and opening the balcony. They also have immediate needs to replace the leaky old roof and add air conditioning.
Visit Madison, an agency that promotes tourism and economic development for the city, recently named Chuck and Elizabeth as winners of the annual H.O.S.T.S. (Honoring Our Super Tourism Stars) Award, for "exceptional service to our community."
Chuck and Elizabeth feel the award should really go to everyone who has helped make the theater come back to life.
"It's really been a community project," Chuck said. "It's been a grassroots effort, and I think the community is taking pride that they have some influence on how this theater will be shaped."
Now, the marquee's lights do more than just shine on Main Street. They give a new glow to an entire town — and prove that happy endings can happen in real life, too, not just in the movies.