By Maggie Miles | Outer Banks Voice on April 26, 2023
The owners of the recently acquired Pioneer Theater have been hard at work remodeling the historic theater, as evidenced by the 40’s style marquee laid out across the front of the building. And the community will not have to wait much longer for the doors to open.
Michael Basnight, co-owner and representative for the theater, told the Voice that the building will be ready by mid-May—with its first two events officially on the books, announcements of other events coming soon, and plans for a few new features.
The new group of owners, represented by Basnight, purchased the more than century-old theater in Manteo on Feb. 14, 2023, just a few months after then owner Buddy Creef announced he was shutting down the historic facility.
The inaugural event at the site will be the Bravey Awards, Manteo Middle School’s annual athletic awards banquet, on May 20. Basnight, a former Manteo Middle student himself, says it will be Manteo’s version of the ESPY awards. Plans include rolling out a red carpet for the students and flashing their name across the big screen as they are called up for their awards.
“There’s just so much camaraderie that often happens in sports, but to be able to pull all the kids together and celebrate another year, particularly those who are leaving middle school going on to high school. It’s a sort of a celebratory moment,” said Basnight. “And it means a lot to be aligned with the school and the town and the community’s families. And I think that’s just a perfect kickoff for the theater and the restoration.”
The second event scheduled will be a comedy show on June 21 from Laughing Gull Comedy with headliner Kevin Farley, brother of the late Chris Farley. This June 21 event will be the first in a monthly comedy series from Laughing Gull.
Basnight explained that although the theater plans to host a wide array of events and shows, movies will still be the staple—with a mix of classic old films and current releases. The schedule is still being worked out but will be available on the Pioneer website and Facebook pages and will be available for pre-sale.
The theater is also in talks with various local music promoters, Basnight added, and while he can’t make any specific show announcements yet, he says attendees can look forward to seeing big national acts as well as local legends. The acts could appear on the stage inside with its newly added VIP lounge or at their outdoor garden stage that will feature tables and concessions for outdoor shows.
Aside from looking at the opportunity for headliners and opening acts to play at the theater when they are here to appear at Festival Island Park, Basnight said he plans to test the theater out as a stand-alone venue, with so many acts performing nearby at places like Virginia Beach, Raleigh and Wilmington.
“You know, when the Casino was across from Jockey’s Ridge, they hosted legends like Fats Domino and the Louis Armstrong band and they were on their way to other venues and they would come through all the time,” he said, invoking the famous Nags Head nightspot. “Why not do it again?”
Basnight also envisions the theater as a community hub where parents can bring their kids and also have something for themselves to enjoy.
“On a Saturday afternoon, let me give you a scenario,” says Basnight. “A parent or two takes the child and you get them in with their friends and they’re sitting in the theater to get the popcorn and drink, you got them all set up, and you’re able to step outside in the garden with your partner and you’re hanging out with all your friends and you’re eating some popcorn and having a beverage and there’s something for you to do without having to go back home and wait for two hours for the movie to be over.”
He also hopes the facility will be a source of entertainment during the dark, chilly days of the off-season.
“We always talked about growing up here in the wintertime as when we got our home back. The tourists would go home, and everybody was in school, and there was no one on the roads…But as a teenager, I remember thinking ‘oh my God, there’s not much to do.’ Adults feel the same thing,” Basnight said. “There’s a nice sigh of relief for a period of time, but then you go ‘okay…so what do we do now?’”
To fill that space, the Pioneer could be a venue for showcasing local talent. Basnight foresees a listening room experience where songwriters discuss songs they’ve written, authors present their books, artists discuss and display their art. Another way he hopes to showcase local performers is by hosting an Outer Banks Got Talent show with monthly events during the winter—with the goal of getting winners recognized in ways such as singing the national anthem at the schools or kicking off the shows at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
“We have some phenomenal storytellers out here. And some great stories, too. I feel like…we could put some microphones up there and let some of the old timers tell some stories about growing up out here—all the characters,” he continued. Other potential uses could include using the theater as a space for company events and presentations during the day.
“Tell us what we can do and how we can connect with the community and use the theater for its best purpose,” Basnight offered. “We’ve certainly gotten a lot of enthusiasm and support, so that’s been fun to see—again with the goal being to get the theater ready to give back to the community in multiple, multiple ways.”
Your vision has “….build it, and they will come…” written all over it.
Nice! Those are exciting new plans for the theater…can’t wait to check it out.