K-MOVIE Seward theater turns to community for help buying projector

Seward theater turns to community for help buying projector


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SEWARD, Neb. — Connie Greger started in the movie theater business young — as soon as her arms were long enough to reach the pop spigots.

Standing on a stool, Greger would fill cups with pop at the Rivoli Theatre in Seward. Then she’d help clean after movies ended to help get the theater ready for the next crowd.

Connie Greger sits in the Rivoli Theatre at 533 Main St. in Seward on Thursday. Her family has owned the theater since 1979.

“I always wanted to help,” Greger said. “I was super excited. I was so excited. How many kids’ parents own a movie theater? Especially in a small town like this?”

Greger was 5 years old when her parents, Chuck and Julie Wisehart, bought the theater along Main Street in 1979. Greger remembers running through the aisles of the theater the week they bought it and thinking to herself, “This is ours. This is ours.”

The Rivoli Theatre opened May 3, 1920, and with the exception of a closure for the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been open ever since, Greger said. Since purchasing it, the Wiseharts have shepherded the theater through decades of the ever-evolving movie industry.

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When renting movies was all the rage, the Wiseharts opened a rental store in the theater. When streaming services hurt the video store, they transformed the space into a second theater.

During the closure for the pandemic, they sold boxes of popcorn. And these days, as attendance has declined, the theater caters mainly to its most reliable customers — older people and kids.

“We just keep it open for the community,” Greger said of the Rivoli.

After providing decades of entertainment, Greger and her family are now asking the community for help to purchase a new $50,000 projector for the largest theater, which has a capacity for 220 people. The light engine on the current projector is going out, which causes part of the screen to be discolored.

Greger said they can still show movies, but the picture quality isn’t up to the Rivoli’s standards, and the projector could eventually stop working.

“Although the Rivoli has been working hard to roll with the changes by offering classic movies, renting out the theaters for private events, and hosting the Flatwater Film Festival, these changes have made operating the business more difficult and less profitable than in any years past,” the family wrote in a Facebook post.

On Sunday, a fundraiser will be held at the theater, 533 Main St., starting at 1 p.m. There will be holiday movie trivia, an ugly sweater contest, a silent auction and free screenings of “Elf” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” at 3 p.m. in the two theaters.


The lobby of the Rivoli Theatre in Seward. Candy is lined up behind a glass display, with the prices handwritten on small slips of paper. 

The theater also will accept donations through the end of the year.

Greger and her sister Cheryl Vajgrt have taken over running the theater since their mother started having health issues last year.

On Thursday morning, Greger walked through the theater. Popcorn from the previous night still sat in the machine in the lobby. Candy was lined up behind a glass display, the prices handwritten on small slips of paper.

A quote from Julie Wisehart is painted on the wall, “The magic of movies enhances experience, knowledge and dreams.”

Through the lobby’s red doors is one of two screens in the theater. This one, the largest and the oldest, has murals on the walls that were painted in the 1930s. A balcony, large enough for a couch, overlooks the seats.

The Seward Independent-Democrat reported on May 6, 1920, that 550 people attended the opening night of the theater. A high school orchestra played throughout the evening and the stage, the article noted, was large enough for vaudeville.

The family that originally owned and ran the theater lived in an apartment upstairs. Greger walked through that apartment Thursday noting the original painting on the walls and a little window that opens up to the theater below.

These days the apartment and nearby rooms are full of almost 45 years worth of memorabilia and movie history.


Old paper tickets for the Rivoli Theatre in Seward. The Rivoli opened in 1920 and has remained open since then with the exception of a few months for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s stuff everywhere,” Greger said. “It’s funny because my mom has been collecting, collecting, collecting. No rhyme or reason.”

A poster of actress Mae West is near a Batman action figure. Greger opened a plastic container and found stickers from the original run of the 1982 movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”

In another room, Greger has begun the process of sorting through all the movie posters so she can sell some of them.

“They are literally everywhere,” Greger said. “We have posters everywhere. Everywhere.”

The Rivoli still offers movie rentals. Greger said people like coming with their kids and physically picking the DVDs off the shelves.

“The people that do come absolutely love it,” she said. “They love bringing their kids.”

Kids growing up in Seward have had their birthday parties, watched their first movies or worked their first jobs at the Rivoli. Two current employees are the children of people who worked at the theater as kids themselves.

For Greger, nothing can replace the feeling of watching a movie with other people.

“That’s what I tell people all the time. It’s just not the same,” she said. “How can you just sit at home and watch every movie?”

When the theater showed the recent Taylor Swift movie, people were dancing and singing in the aisles. During a recent showing of a horror film, Greger tried to get people to scream with her during the scary moments. No one screamed with her, but there was lots of laughter.

“You can’t replace that,” she said. “You just can’t.”


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