Part of the SALA renovations. Photo Courtesy SALA
BY KEVIN HOLSAPPLE
The SALA Event Center, the ambitious initiative to bring the former Reel Deal theater back to life as a place for our community to gather, watch movies, live events, and have fun is about two months into its start-up so it seemed an appropriate time to sit down with owner Allan Saenz to see how he thinks the “road test” is going. SALA has put quite a few moving parts into play already, and there are certainly more to come.
“We could have stayed closed and practiced, but we have chosen to be open and serve community needs while we learn and improve from the experiences,” said Saenz.
SALA has already hosted an impressive set of events and activities. Multi-day runs of new-release, award-nominated Hollywood movies are now a fixture at Wednesday through Sunday 3 and 6 p.m. daily showings. “Puss In Boots”, “A Man Called Otto”, “80 For Brady”, and “The Whale” have kicked off the schedule.
SALA’s series of independent, foreign, documentary, and alternative films they call “Parallel Cinema” are screened every Thursday evening at 6 PM. Warren Miller’s Annual Ski feature, “Daymaker” kicked off the series in December with a good crowd and beer & wine served by Bathtub Row. “When in Doubt, Do Something”, a documentary about singer, songwriter, and hunger activist Harry Chapin provided the opportunity for SALA to reach out to our local foodbank, LA Cares, to give them an opportunity to increase awareness of poverty and hunger issues in our community. The Backcountry Film Festival was presented in collaboration with PEEC.
Every Saturday at 6 PM is a screening of a classic film – “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Lonely Are the Brave”, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, are just some of the past shows and “Casablanca” will be presented in a dinner-dance format at Valentine’s time. Live-streamed events have included World Cup Soccer matches and the Super Bowl. The every-Saturday-morning 9 a.m. “PJ’s & Cartoons” family activity has also been popular.
SALA has also hosted many successful rentals of space for private events – some open to the community. Examples have included a YMCA Gala Fundraiser, Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfasts, a ‘LANL Frontiers in Science’ lecture event, and multiple birthday parties and private receptions.
“Revisions to the facility are taking shape day-by-day. Two of the theaters are working with stadium seating largely as they were set up during the Reel Deal era. A third theater, SALA Social Centre”, has been modified to remove the fixed seating and create flexibility to set up the space in a variety of ways — it can be wide open, be set up with informal seating, or tables and chairs can be set up to support dinner seating as well,” Saenz said. “The fixed seating has also been removed from the fourth theater and that space is being used by local business Los Alamos Golf & Games for their virtual golf set-ups and arcade games. Our plan is to eventually convert that theater into an immersive experience space.”
“In terms of operations, we are learning everyday and we work to turn that learning into improvements. Marketing and communication in our town presents a challenge — there are so many ways to try to get the word out. The best way to know what movies and events are at SALA is the calendar at sala.losalamos.com. We are pushing our scheduling out farther into the future as quickly as we can and we plan to start putting a calendar insert into the Thursday every-household delivery of the Los Alamos Daily Post. Refrigerator magnets are available at SALA to post the calendar on your refrigerator if you want,” Saenz continued
“Tickets can be purchased anytime online at sala.losalamos.com and are also available at the door. If you purchase online, you will receive an email with a QR code that you can print out or show on your phone to SALA staff when you come to the event. Gift cards are also available online. Concessions include pizza by the slice, warm empanadas, popcorn varieties, candies, and soft drinks. You pay for concessions at a kiosk and pick them up from the counters. Beer & wine are available at selected events from licensed local businesses.,” Saenz said.
“Friends of SALA” is a way for anyone in the community who believes we need to have a sustainable movie venue to play a part and help. There are three tiers of Friends. Joining the free tier connects friends of the project with e-bulletins with schedule and other information as well as surveys and focus group participation. Occasional free events are held for Friends of SALA – a screening of “Top Gun: Maverick” in December was the first. The “Member” tier is a $50 per month subscription that comes with all of the features of the free tier plus free admission to all SALA movies and events, and three companion passes. Paying annually is called the “VIP” tier and it adds the additional benefits of six companion passes and a free private event scheduled at your convenience in one of SALA’s theaters or spaces during the year. Anyone can become a Friend of SALA at the tier that suits them at sala.losalamos.com . Becoming a Friend at any level is about more than admission to events and tangible benefits – it is also about stepping up to play a role in the sustainability of our local theater.
“As part of deciding to invest in the theater and Los Alamos community, I heard from people over-and-over that what we were proposing would fill an important community need. It was great encouragement and was one of the important factors in taking the plunge. ‘Friends of SALA’ is our approach to giving people who believe in the need for a theater in Los Alamos to make a commitment, get engaged, and help us to make the project sustainable. I am not in this because it is the best possible business opportunity — I am in this because I believe in our community and I think that if we can get community involvement, the business will succeed,” said Saenz.
[Kevin Holsapple is a SALA volunteer]