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Proctors marquee going digital

Morris says theater can ‘add new stuff’

July 2, 2014
Updated 10:18 p.m.
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The traditional marquee at Proctors is soon to be replaced with a digital one.
The traditional marquee at Proctors is soon to be replaced with a digital one.

— The Proctors marquee on State Street is getting a makeover next week.

Work is kicking off to upgrade the 31-year-old marquee to feature a new digital display with LED lighting and streaming video. But most of its vintage qualities will remain intact.

“It all remains. Everything is getting restored,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris. “Every aspect including shape, size, color and Proctors lettering are the same. But the lights will be digitally controlled and the sign board will be changed.”

Proctors will no longer have to send someone up on a ladder or a hydraulic lift to replace the black block letters. Instead, the LED signage will be programmed to change every minute.

Morris said he intends to keep the old-fashioned font — only in a digital form — and instead of displaying three shows stacked on top of each other, they would be flashed on the marquee one at a time.

“We have the capacity for it to move, so we will set up shows on a one-minute rotation,” Morris said. “We can also add new stuff. For example, for ‘The Lion King’ we can have animals running across the marquee.”

Light bulbs will be removed from the marquee today, with further work set to begin on July 8. Olson Signs and Graphics in Scotia originally built the marquee in 1983 and will also be rebuilding the new marquee. The project is expected to take between four and eight weeks.

“The old look is kind of cool, but I fully understand how frequently they have to change the marquee for each show now,” said Richard Olson, owner of Olson Signs and Graphics. “In a way, I think if they program it right and do a nice job with the graphics that it will fit in nicely.”

Renovations to the marquee include painting, repairing rusted areas and installing 1,400 new LED bulbs. Plans also include restoration of the Stratton Plaza marquee along with the addition of a digital panel. The GE Theatre marquee will also be digitally upgraded.

The overall project comes with a $250,000 price tag. The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority is providing a $97,000 grant for the renovations.

Proctors is on the National Register of Historic Places, so the theater had to receive approval with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for the marquee’s electronic upgrade.

The Schenectady Heritage Foundation also gave its nod of approval for an upgraded marquee. The group focuses on preserving historic architecture throughout the city.

The foundation’s chairwoman, Gloria Kishton, said the board’s vote to support the digital upgrades was not unanimous. Some members expressed concerns about “flashy advertisements.”

“They said they would not have moving graphics and other features that you see displays show,” Kishton said. “We don’t want to see that, but it’s a gray area. We are aware of the possibility that once the electronic message board goes up anything is possible.”

Kishton said she has heard a range of opinions on the marquee, with some people “extremely unhappy” and others who believe it’s time for Proctors to “enter the digital age.”

Chuck Steiner, president of The Chamber of Schenectady County, said upgrading the Proctors marquee is another step forward to “brighten downtown Schenectady.” After all, it is the Electric City, he said.

“I think they did a very commendable job keeping the heritage and keeping that whole look but at the same time recognizing new technology,” Steiner said. “It is not easy changing that sign, so I get it. Electronically you can make it look very, very similar.”

The new digital display will highlight information about shows and events for all of Proctors’ venues including the main theater, GE Theater and Key Hall. In all, five new digital panels will be installed.

The Times Union and Keeler Motor Car Co. are marquee sponsors. The sponsorships are four-year commitments. Proctors is seeking three additional sponsors. Morris said there would not be advertising on the marquee other than recognizing the sponsors.

The marquee is not original to the Proctors building, which was built in 1926. But Olson said the marquee his company built three decades ago was modeled as closely as possible to the original.

“What is there now is almost identical to the 1920s marquee,” Olson said. “The only difference is that the original one only had two lines instead of three. But like we did before, we’ll keep everything as original as possible.”

Morris said he is looking forward to a digital marquee, which he said will allow Proctors to adapt with the times and explore new possibilities.

“I am way more worried about the inside of our facility looking original than the outside signage,” Morris said. “It has been changed before, and it is time to change now. I think it will be kind of fun for Proctors to be a little more bold than it has ever been.”

After renovations are completed and the marquee officially goes digital, Morris is left with one little problem. What about the hundreds of black letters?

“We are just starting to talk about what to do with those letters,” Morris said. “We have about 400 or 500 of them. We’re still playing around with a few ideas. Right now, we’ll keep them.”

 
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