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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Rodeo Cinema, OKC’s unique, indie-spirited, non-profit movie theater in the Stockyards (and now also on Film Row,) opened in its original form way back in 1924, but had only existed in its current incarnation for about a year before COVID hit and turned the entire film industry on its head.

In all the time since, the theater has been managed, programmed, and overseen largely by one person, local film fanatic and former IT specialist Sean Peel, who admits that his one-man show may have had him in a bit over his head.

“I was literally on Google searching ‘how to manage a theater,’” Peel said of his earliest days after accepting the management position for the theater. “I always felt I was doing us a disservice as a programmer, because I didn’t have the training.”

But now, much to Peel’s obvious excitement and relief, Rodeo Cinema has assembled a full, collaborative Executive team for the first time, and the implications for the theater’s future are huge and promising.

Music and Film

with Brett Fieldcamp

By True Sky Credit Union

While Peel will stay on as Theater Manager, he won’t be running things alone any longer. Longtime Rodeo employee Randy Heyer will be the official Programmer, friend and former Paramount Room proprietor BradChad Porter is on board as Assistant Manager, and brand new Executive Director Kara Chapman will be charting the course and steering the ship.

Chapman brings with her a wealth of directorial knowledge and experience, having previously held the same Executive Director title at Guthrie’s Pollard Theater, focusing more on live theater and performing arts, an element that the team hopes to begin incorporating more into Rodeo as well.

“It’s interesting because there’s always been this strange sort of divide between the film community and live theater,” Chapman told us. “But then, all of a sudden, they were kind of forced together through COVID. Theater shut down and film blew up, and they were like ‘we need people who can act.’”

Rodeo Cinema
The new crew for Rodeo Cinema February 2022 are L-R: Randy Heyer, senior programmer & events coordinator; Kara Chapman, executive director; BradChad Porter, assistant manager; and, Sean Peel, manager. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

The hope going forward will be to use the Rodeo space as a place to bridge that divide and to offer OKC a venue for arts, entertainment, and culture of all kinds.

“Cinema is always going to be kind of our focus,” said Chapman, “but at the end of the day, it’s going to be more all-encompassing, and that is going to be about diversifying and using the stage space that we have here to offer more in the sense of experiences, like live productions.”

In addition to regular screenings of cult classics, forgotten gems, and first-run indies, they say that many of the theater’s biggest successes have been their frequent event nights, often featuring actors and filmmakers coming through to present screenings of their films and host Q&A’s and discussions for fans. The team intends to continue those kinds of events while also expanding widely into the kind of community-and-culture-driven content that will further their standing as a non-profit arts institution for the city.

“One of the things is creating a brand identity that makes it feel for everybody that it is what it can be,” Chapman explained. “It has to be community-driven, so bringing in some community initiatives such as playwright festivals, film festivals, and hopefully in the long term, a Native American Film Festival in tandem with hosting the Native American Playwright Festival. So we have a lot of different things in that regard.”

With everyone on the team ready and raring to jump headlong into their role, the plans have already begun to snowball and the future of Rodeo Cinema is looking brighter than ever.

As the Stockyards location begins to evolve and incorporate live events, performance art, music, and community programming, the Film Row location will become even more of a destination for the love and preservation of movies, utilizing what is possibly America’s very last remaining film development lab screening room inside the Paramount Building on Sheridan.

Fun, free fan-favorites like obscure cult classic viewing party “VHS & Chill” and the absurdist joy of the “Ernest Film Club” are set to remain, as the theater’s love of culturally relevant and important programming continues throughout February with a full slate of films and events for Black History Month. 

Monday, February 21st will see a free screening of the documentary “Citizen Ashe,” chronicling the first African-American to win at Wimbledon, and they’ll be bringing in the group First Serve OKC, a tennis-based inner-city outreach program for young athletes, for their own viewing and Q&A, proving what kind of positive impact the theater can have for the community and the city’s culture.

Rodeo Cinema
The Rodeo Cinema in Stockyards City SW of downtown Oklahoma City is a nonprofit that has just recently expanded to a second location at The Paramount on Film Row. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“If you’re not changing, you’re not growing,” Peel said. “Change is good, and it’s so cool to see everyone so excited and to just be staying alive here. We could have very easily closed in March of 2020 and not reopened, like a lot of people unfortunately did, but now we’re getting to breathe and to have fun and be creative. We didn’t just wither and die, and now we’re getting that second breath on the eve of our fourth anniversary.”

You can keep up with the upcoming slate of events and film screenings, and donate or become a contributing member for Rodeo Cinema at rodeocinema.org, and follow them on social media at Facebook.com/RodeoCinema, @rodeocinema on Twitter, and on Instagram at both @rodeocinemaokc and @rodeocinemaonfilmrow.

Last Updated February 16, 2022, 5:00 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor