Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Benefit concert celebrates historic Miami landmark and raises funds for Olympia Theater

April 26, 2012, 3:26 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

This weekend, a Miami landmark takes an important step into the digital future of film.

The Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts is hosting a benefit concert Saturday, bringing together local leaders and talent as part of  its new campaign to digitally upgrade the 86-year-old theater. The effort is part of an overall effort to upgrade the theater’s facilities and engage new audiences in the performing arts.

gusmanThe benefit concert, Renascentia, features Jon Secadathe Spam All-StarsRobert Elias & The RevengeEnrique SantosJencarlos Canela and more. It's scheduled for 8 p.m on Saturday, April 28. Tickets, which start at $20, are available online or by calling 305- 372-0925. With a VIP ticket, audiences are invited to attend a cocktail reception beforehand.

Funds raised will go toward acquiring a new digital film projector for the theater, which will give it the ability to show first run movies, participate in more film festivals and even host live events via satellite.

Gusman Center’s Assistant Director Robert Geitner says the new technology will help take the theater to the newest level of film presentation and technology:

“The world of cinema presentation has changed immensely over the last three years and it will only continue to change. From an entertainment perspective, [having this technology] will open up a whole new world of film and digital presentation for us. It presents us with the opportunity to livestream events that we don’t have the capability to do right now. For example, we’ll be able to broadcast shows live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, right here in Miami.”

The theater, built as a movie theater which opened in 1926, originally showed only the silent films available during the era. When I asked Geithner about the first movies to play at the theater, he said the records didn’t exist, but he “doubted they would be available today on Netflix.”

One of theater’s treasures is its Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which is still in use. Viewers who attended some of last month’s Miami Film Festival events at the theater got a taste of the organ before films were screened. The organ, which consists of three keyboards and 15 ranks of pipes (known as a “3/15”), has been a part of the Gusman Center since it first opened. It was designed to provide full orchestral accompaniments to the silent movies first screened there. It is the only 3/15  still in public use in Florida, and one of only nine in the world, according to the American Theatre Organ Society.

Over the years, the theater been a premier venue for music, film and theater audiences, and has featured headliners such as Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Luciano Pavarotti and Etta James. It has also gone through several restorations.

Saturday’s benefit is presented by Motivate Miami, a team of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Miami program. It is sponsored by Knight Foundation along with AT&T, Miami Herald, Greenberg Traurig, Dominican Republic Tourism and Southern Wine & Spirits.