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The magic is in the theater

Jeff Clark still hears from people who have no idea The Magic Theatre exists.

The art-house movie theater at 107 Argall Way in Nevada City that Clark owns isn’t part of a modern, multiple screen complex or a 1950s-era theater with a large marquee out front. One might think The Magic Theatre is just another store among yoga, natural foods and barber shop, said Clark, 50.

The modest storefront theater used to house an alarm business, said Jason Graham, 29, The Magic Theatre’s manager.



“People don’t know The Magic Theatre exists unless they hear about it or check it out,” Clark said.

The business has crafted a small but loyal following through its more than 20 years operating on a shoestring budget, Clark said.




“It’s kind of a labor of love,” Clark said of his role. “We’re presenting films people might not be able to see otherwise, and we do it in a way that’s fun.”

“For us, ‘Amelie’ is a blockbuster,”” Clark said referring to the 2001 movie about a woman who realizes her goal in life is to help others. “We sold almost every seat, every time we showed ‘Amelie.'”

Clark and Graham hardly are ever that lucky.

“That’s just not the way the business works,” Clark said. “It’s very up and down. Obviously, we’d like to have sell out every time.”

“A lot of this is word-of-mouth,” Clark said. Many times, the first couple nights of a new movie might not draw a lot of people, but by the end of the same film’s run, it might be selling out, he added.

Some people just come, though have no idea what’s showing, Graham said.

They sit mostly in old seats donated by Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts, Clark said.

They can eat locally made desserts and snacks from truffles to organic popcorn, he said.

Despite his slim budget, Clark is trying to upgrade the venue. In the next few months, the theater could improve the sound system, he said.

Clark has owned the theater since 2001, but the independent film operation has been around in several different Nevada City locations for more than 20 years, he said.

The business has been above Sushi Q’s on Commercial Street and near Off Broadstreet Theatre, among other places, Clark said. “They moved it around wherever they could find a place.”

The Magic Theatre is a big reason why Clark, a Los Angeles native, settled in Nevada City.

“To have an art-house theater in a town of this is size is unusual,” Clark said.

Through the theater, Graham was one of the founders of the Nevada City Film Festival, which has grown from word of mouth like the theater’s more popular independent films, Graham said.

Many of the festival’s films appear at The Magic Theatre.

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To contact Staff Writer Greg Moberly, e-mail gregm@theunion.com or call 477-4234.


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