East Van's Rio Theatre sold but plans to carry on

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.




Susanne T

May 15, 2011 at 8:47am

Just want to say thanks to Alex & co. for all the creative energy you put into the space. You built a genuine fan base from nothing and captured the respect of a jaded community. Fresh tracks are hard to make and you did it!

Andrew Fleming

May 15, 2011 at 10:39am

The Rio is dead. Long live the Rio!


May 15, 2011 at 10:53am

honkytonky11, just put on your blinders, make your way home and watch Driving Miss Daisy again; because you clearly didn't read the article and you don't really know what's played there anyways.

Alec Smecher

May 15, 2011 at 12:23pm

The Rio and all of the cooperation from the Black Dog folks have been a real highlight of the Commercial neighbourhood for me in recent years. Whatever happens, I hope everyone involved gets the chance to keep putting their creative energies into it and gets paid in the bargain. I really appreciate you folks.


May 18, 2011 at 9:15am

Your choice of words was not appreciated buy this reader, "Sugar Daddy" really? If it was a man trying to resurrect the Rio, would you have said quote "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." I don't think so!

Tyler Nicol

May 18, 2011 at 9:21am

The Rio has been one of my favorite spots for quite a while now, somewhere nice enough that I make a good long drive out to it to watch a movie while living a ten minute walk from a Silvercity that I'd rather not use. I don't think they've found a "sugar daddy" as much as a wise investor who sees the potential of a well run, energetically marketed venue that is due to bust out as a mainstay of Vancouver entertainment. Rio ain't no street-walker looking for a hand-out, it's a fine fine lady.

Lydia DeCarllo

May 18, 2011 at 9:41am

Yeah "Sugar Daddy" is not the right choice of words, kinda lame move Martin. Oh and I'm the person that keeps asking they play Deep Throat again, because 70's porn rules and the soundtrack is amazing.


May 18, 2011 at 10:26am

I agree with Phill... I really think "sugar daddy' was a sexist comment, and you wouldn't have used that if it was a man running things. I think Martin Dunphy has no clue what is appropriate to say and fell back on his misogynistic sword. Please learn to not alienate your readers.. I suspect you have no clue women actually read your paper... With comments like that.. not for much longer. I hope the RIO survives with its influx of investment money from the two gentlemen who are supporting the Arts in Vancouver and a great venue. I don;t think they would appreciate being called sugar daddies either.

Martin Dunphy

May 19, 2011 at 1:44am


If you read just the first paragraph of the article, you will see that it IS a man (actually, two men), and they are not trying to "resurrect" the Rio but merely trying to help keep it from going under and to continue the fine work that Corinne Lea and friends have already been doing for three years now.

As for those readers who found my use of the term "sugar daddy" offensive, be assured that I am not now nor have I ever been guided in my choice of language by misogynistic or sexist inclinations.
It was merely a figure of speech.
To those who found themselves bowled over by its use, I apologize.

Have a nice day.