New foundation aims to renovate Muse Theatre in downtown Perry

bpurser@macon.comNovember 21, 2012 

PERRY -- At 25, Billy Milby of Kathleen is among a group of seven spearheading an effort to renovate and reopen the Muse Theatre in downtown Perry.

“Like most people, every time I’d drive by I’d think it would be nice for someone to reopen it,” Milby said Wednesday at the old theater at 806 Commerce St. “I just decided somebody’s got to do it.”

Milby is joined by six others in the community -- Greg Potter, Jon Pierce, Beth Cleveland, Jackie Cooper, Chris Clark and Sara Barron -- in organizing a nonprofit to raise funds to purchase and renovate the 5,000-square-foot theater constructed in 1949. The Muse Theatre Foundation should be fully set up in two to three months, Milby said.

Pierce, 52, a sales manager of a plant for Tolleson Lumber, used to go the Muse Theatre with his parents after lunch for a cartoon and a Western movie.

“We all grew up going to the movies there,” said Pierce in a telephone interview. He is vice president of the foundation. Milby is the president.

Pierce said he’s excited about the project. He said the foundation name has been approved by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, and the incorporation paperwork as a nonprofit may be finalized by the start of the new year.

Much of the work needed to bring the old theater back to life is expected to be secured through grants, which are often dependent on a showing of community support through funds raised for the project, Milby said.

“We need a lot of start-up money to get the ball rolling,” said Milby, who is already partners with his dad and brother in a for-profit venture, Visiting Angels, an alternative to assisted living where care is provided in the person’s home.

He said those who approve grants for projects like the Muse Theatre need to “see that the community is behind the project in a tangible way.”

A third party, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently purchased the theater and has agreed to hold it for the fledging nonprofit until it can purchase the theater outright, Milby said.

Once renovations are complete, the group can begin to use the facility to generate revenue to purchase the property, Milby said.

The plans are to renovate the structure to display a “classic-theater look” with multi-purpose appeal from showing movies to hosting concerts to renting the facility for other uses, Milby said.

A 35-millimeter film projector has been donated to the theater with an offer from a commercial cinema group to help the nonprofit set the projector in motion, he said.

Envisioned are special movie nights such as showing “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, perhaps debuting with a classic film such as “The Sound of Music” and airing seasonal films such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Christmas.

The theater has a stage, which would allow for a band and standing room-only crowd. There’s also the possibility of having a section of removable theater seats toward the front and tables and chairs toward the back, Milby said.

Side areas near the stage would be used for backstage areas for bands and other artists. Milby also said he expects the second-floor balcony may be used for a lounge.

The original theater sign outside probably will have to be replaced due to its deterioration, Milby said. But the sign is expected to be replicated to resemble the original “as close as possible,” he said.

Right now, those are some of the proposals the group is exploring for the remaking of the Muse Theatre, Milby said.

The project already has been greeted with a groundswell of support, Pierce said.

The foundation raised $1,000 at the recent Mistletoe Market at the Georgia National Fairgrounds by offering T-shirts with the foundation logo for a $20 donation, a “Save the Muse” bumper sticker for a $10 donation or both the T-shirt and bumper sticker for a $25 donation, Pierce said.

He’s been contacted by college students who say they don’t have a lot of money but do have sweat equity to offer, Pierce said.

“It’s amazing what we’ve rekindled in town,” Pierce said.

For more on the project, visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MuseTheatre.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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