Clayton Theatre ready to go digital as fundraising goal nears

In just 12 months, Dagsboro’s Clayton Theatre has received an outpouring of support from the community that has shown that, even in the digital age, they want to see the Clayton’s marquee remain glowing.

“It has been a great year for the theater — everybody’s generosity, coming together and helping us to raise the money,” said Joanne Howe, who owns the theater.

Last year, many movie studios announced that they would no longer be releasing films on actual film, but only in digital format. With that announcement, Howe began fundraising to cover the conversion of the vintage one-screen theater, which requires a new server and digital projectors, along with an upgraded ventilation system.

“We’re about $5,000 away from our goal,” said Howe this week. “It’s exciting. I just can’t even believe we were able to do it over the course of a year — raise this money.”

Howe said that the conversion effort was able to raise so much through generous donations from community members, along with well-attended community events at the theater.

“Different organizations have come in, like the Masons have come in a few times and they ran a special family night. We did a Christmas night with Bethany Beach Books and showed ‘The Grinch,’” she recalled. “It’s so great.”

One of its more popular fundraising endeavors — Clayton Classics — will kick off for this year on Monday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. with “All about Eve,” starring Bette Davis, Ann Baxter and George Sanders. In addition to the classic films being shown at the theater every Monday night, there will also be a second Clayton Classics showing every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. All tickets for Clayton Classics cost $4 per person.

Local writers have also offered to donate proceeds from their book sales to the Clayton.

“A gentleman came to me early on, named James Meeham. He’s written several books about the area, and he offered to donate to the theater the money from the first 100 book sales this year,“ said Howe.

Earlier this year, Sandie Hancock Gerken — daughter of Pete and Marian Hancock, who opened the single-screen theater in Dagsboro on Feb. 2, 1949 — along with Alvin “Skeet“ Campbell, published “Memories of the Clayton Theatre: A Look Back.”

Gerken also donated the proceeds of the first 100 books sold to the Clayton’s fundraising efforts.

“Everybody loves it,” said Gerken of her book. “I’m hoping, with all the fundraising, that it renews people’s interest in going to the movies and coming to the Clayton. I think the book has done that, and I’m excited about that. You have local landmarks and local places, and you say, ‘Well, I could go there anytime.’ But do you? What happens tomorrow if it’s gone?“

Howe said that she has yet to settle on what digital projection system she will have installed in the theater but said it would be in by April.

“I know, for the next couple of months, we’re going to have options, which is all we need,“ she said. “We’re in the final stretch, here.”

She added that the theater’s resident projectionist, Charlie Thorns, will even be trained in how to operate the new equipment.

“Charlie will still have equipment to run and maintain,” she explained. “They actually have a school that you can send your theater’s projectionist to, to learn the basics of maintaining the equipment. So, if something does go down, they can fix it temporarily.

“In most cases,” she noted, “a lot of these places are located in California, so if something does go down, I’ll have until about 9 o’clock to call them and they can still ship overnight. That’s encouraging. The projectors we have are gears. It’s all stuff you can see and fix. But when you’re talking computer chips and motherboards, it’s not stuff we can do.”

The Clayton currently houses the cinema’s two original 35mm MotioGraph projectors, which Howe said will remain in the theater.

“I was hoping to keep one of the projectors in the projection booth so that occasionally we could play film, but I’ve heard that it wouldn’t work well with our new sound system. It’s a digital sound system made for a digital projector,“ explained Howe. “One will come out and we’ll put it upstairs so people can see what the old projectors look like. There are still all these little details we’re working out.”

Howe said she’s honored to own the beloved theater and hopes that the community will continue to support and treasure it as a special piece of local history.

“There’s just something about coming to the movie theater, sitting in with a bunch of strangers and people that you know, and getting a reaction to a film, enjoying it, or crying, whatever. Just the sense of being together and doing that as a community — that shared experience,“ she said. “That’s the fun, too. When they all come out and are talking, and congregate outside. They’re talking about the movie, life and what’s happening in their families. I just love it.”

Copies of “Memories of the Clayton Theatre: A Look Back” may be purchased at the Clayton Theatre’s box office; Wayne’s Barbershop, immediately adjacent to the theater; Jayne’s Reliable: Furniture and Sundries; and Bethany Beach Books; and from Gerken, who may be reached at (302) 732-6835 or at

The Clayton Theatre is located at 900 Main Street in Dagsboro. For more information, to find out about the latest showings or to donate, call (302) 732-3744 or visit them online at or