The Williamston Sun Theatre renews traditions, focuses on digitalization

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WILLIAMSTON- The Williamston Sun Theatre renews its traditions of the past while focusing on a future of digitalization and continued community involvement through the efforts of Owner Dan Robitaille.

According to Robitaille, with big box office declines in mainstream theatres, the Sun Theatre has found new ways to appeal to the local demographic and keep their audiences beyond on the Williamston community.

“There were originally 250 of these single-screen theatres in lower Michigan,” owner Dan Robitaille said. “Now we are down to about a dozen.”

The Sun Theatre has one new movie every week beginning on Friday with a new film out every Thursday. Tickets are sold for $4 per seat.

With the support of their past fan base, the Sun Theatre was able to move forward through new ideas and relationships in the community.

“One popular thing is our dinner and a flick with restaurants. If you spend $30 or more at a certain restaurant you can get two tickets for free,” Robitaille said. “The most popular place right now for dinner and a flick is the Williamston Pub & Grill.”

Robitaille also engages with the community through utilizing the theatre for events besides movie screenings.

“We have had weddings, birthday parties and community events here,” Robitaille said. “In addition, we have done fundraisers with the baseball teams in Williamston, memorial charities for teenagers that have passed away in our community and cancer fundraising here at the theatre.”

Robitaille said that the theatre originally only had 35 mm films, and as Hollywood started to decrease making the film print, the theatre was forced to go digital.

“This digital transition required a new projector and sound system which cost us $80,000 overall, and that’s a big chunk of change for an old single screened theatre like this,” Robitaille said. “We did an online campaign and our patrons gifted money to the theatre. During that two-month process we would get letters from people out of state that hadn’t been here in years.”

The Sun Theatre concession stand is open for regular show times, special events and closed parties that take place within the theatre.

According to Robitaille, the theatre was able to make the digital transition five years ago with help from their customers.

Besides being a hub for fundraising and community events in town, the Sun Theatre has also been successful through expanding its involvement with the Michigan State University film students.

MSU senior Tyler Clifton was involved with the Sun Theatre through a film project.

“MSU’s theatre to film last year was a thriller called ‘Stay With Me’, and one of the required locations was the exterior of a theatre,”  Clifton said. “Along with directing, I took on locations and I knew about the Sun Theatre in Williamston. From there, I went to their box office and talked to them about it. I thought their aesthetic was great, especially because you don’t see a lot of classical local theatres anymore.”

Clifton was able to spread the word about the Sun Theatre to students at MSU, and finish his film at the location.

“They were very helpful for allowing us to film there,” Clifton said. “One of the weekends during production our crew stopped by there at night just after a movie showing and filmed outside the theatre.”

The Sun Theatre is located at 150 W. Grand River Ave. in Williamston, MI.

Webberville resident Rachel Pennington is an avid customer at the Sun Theatre, and said that the theatre seems to always be packed on the weekends.

“It has a really cool small town feel,”  Pennington said. “It is extremely affordable and family owned, so it is not as commercial feeling as a big theatre. I have seen days where there is a line out the door and people are pouring out after a show.”

The next big event at the Sun Theatre is the “Rocky Horror Show” that features a cast from MSU. According to Robitaille, this could be their last year doing the “Rocky Horror Show” considering their usual cast is made up with all MSU seniors who will be graduating soon.


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