East Vancouver's independent Rio Theatre has found a sugar daddy to help it keep producing its unique mix of live music, cult-film screenings, independent flicks, and first-run Hollywood fare in hardscrabble economic times.
The popular single-screen venue near Broadway and Commercial Drive has been sold to Festival Cinemas partners Leonard Schein and Tom Lightburn, who run the Ridge, Park, and Fifth Avenue theatres.
The Rio Theatre announced the ownership change in a news release issued today (May 14) that said the venue's original investors were finding it increasingly difficult to break even financially.
Schein and Lightburn took out a new mortgage, effective May 1, to secure the Rio's future, Rio manager Corinne Lea told the Straight in a phone interview. She said that although the venue's event focus might be shifting slightly, the 73-year-old theatre's fans shouldn't be worried.
“We'll keep our Friday-night midnight screenings,” she said of the popular showings of cult horror and science-fiction classics where audience members often attend in costume. “That's something that will never change. We call them movie events. We will still do the Hollywood blockbusters, but not as much... We'll be focusing more on unique independent films. We're calling ourselves an independent art house”
Lea said that one of the problems with booking big Hollywood releases was a demand for large up-front financial guarantees. “Some of the film-distribution companies are not so reasonable,” she said.
Lea, who owns the company that operates the Rio, Shameless Lee Productions, said she secured a 20-year lease for the theatre from Schein (“five years and an option”).
She said the 445-seat venue, which she has run for three years, will get a sound, lighting, and stage upgrade from its new owners in anticipation of her desire to bring in more music acts.
“We've realized that the way to go is to do more live events,” she said. “We have a huge stage and the acoustics are really good, so we lend ourselves to becoming a live venue. Now we'll have more live shows happening regularly.”
Lea said she doesn't see the Rio as moving into the same booking territory as the Biltmore, mostly because of the theatre's much larger space. “We get more of the acts where people want to sit and listen,” she said.
The Rio has recently offered live acts such as Ron Sexsmith, Joe Purdy, Baba Brinkman, and others, and has hosted live satellite broadcasts of events as diverse as Olympic ceremonies, World Cup soccer games, Stanley Cup playoff contests, and Barack Obama's inauguration. The semi-notorious Randy and Evi Quaid even screened an advance look at their film Star Whackers at the Rio last month.
The Straight was unable to reach Schein for comment Saturday..