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ShireCon will fill Colonial Theatre with magic and mystery on Sept. 15 and 16. Photo by Debra A. Aleksinas

Colonial Theatre to host upcoming gaming convention

NORTH CANAAN —About 150 gaming enthusiasts from throughout New England are expected to converge on the Colonial Theatre this weekend to attend ShireCon 2023, a role-playing and board game event, bringing with them an economic boost for businesses in town, according to the historic venue’s new owners.

ShireCon 2023, which will take place on Friday, Sept. 15,  and Saturday, Sept. 16, is the first major event hosted by the Colonial Theatre since partners David and Stacey Fiorello and Mark and Lenore Mallett held a gala grand opening May 13.

Co-owner Mark Mallett said since then, steady progress has been made by the team, including the return of movies to the big screen, this weekend’s hosting of ShireCon, and marketing for future events and activities to be hosted both in the main theater and the upstairs ballroom.

 “We’re trying to not get ahead of ourselves. We just opened it back up and are beginning to hold events with a really good response. We are very satisfied and pleased at how it’s going so far.”

Mallett noted that the theater’s website is up and running but is being overhauled and rebranded with an updated look and feel, and the partners recently hired Britta Bibliotti of Falls Village as part-time events manager.

The theater has begun offering free community films, supported through $500 sponsorships from local businesses, who benefit from promotional publicity, including having their businesses featured on the theater marquee and on the big screen during the movie, as well as in email blasts, on the website and through social media.

Sponsors receive 100 tickets, and up to 20 can be reserved for the sponsor, who also gets to select from a list of films and choose the date and show time. Advance registration is required for the free movies.

The theater provides the concessions at $1 and $2, said Mallett. “We may have to increase the price in the future, but the goal is not to make a profit out of the gate. The goal is to cover our costs.” 

Upcoming films sponsored by various businesses through fall and winter of 2023 include “Cinema Paradiso” on Friday, Sept. 22; Disney’s “Hocus Pocus” on Saturday, Oct. 14; “Hotel Transylvania,” on Saturday, Oct. 28, and “Elf” on Sunday, Nov. 26. 

“We are trying to limit them to two a month,” Mallett said of the community movies. “We want to keep it special and keep people excited about it. Plus, we have to staff them,” Mallett explained. “This isn’t our core competency, so we want to move forward pretty deliberately and slow.”

With summer winding down and fall and winter approaching, Mallett said the theater will be looking to holiday events and parties for all ages and interests, and even taking reservations for weddings in the spring and throughout 2024.

But in the meantime, excitement is brewing over the arrival of ShireCon 2023 on Friday and Saturday, said Mallett. “It will occupy both the ballroom upstairs and downstairs theater, and we anticipate 100 to 150 people from seven states to attend.” 

Enthusiasts travel from a considerable distance, as do vendors, said the theater co-owner, who noted that the ShireCon founder and organizer, Thom Wilson, has also been promoting and encouraging gamers to frequent local eating establishments and inns.

Wilson said he is excited about bringing his convention, now in its fifth year, to the North Canaan theater. He said the event outgrew its former site, the Center on Main, home of the Falls Village Children’s Theater, and when he read an article in the local newspaper about the Colonial reopening, he said he reached out to the owners within a day.

“We outgrew the venue and needed to find a larger space. The Center on Main was very good to us, allowing us to use their space for four years,” Wilson explained. “The Colonial Theatre has more than enough space for us this year and the foreseeable future. Although we don’t expect to grow too rapidly, we think we have enough room for 175 to 200 people in the new venue.”

The ShireCon founder further noted that the North Canaan site offers enhanced parking and food options, “which made the decision to move pretty easy.”

Wilson said in addition to the gamers, “We’ll have 12 vendors, seven special guests and 10 volunteers.” And he’s not just the convention’s founder, he has been a gamer his entire life.

“There will be generations of my family playing games at the Convention…myself, my son and two daughters, and my granddaughter, Piper. “There are a couple of games just for kids. Honestly, I’d love more of these next year.”

Mallett said he and is partners are excited to “get the community back and interested and to have the theater with its lights on once again.” He said there is still much work to be done heading into 2024, including improvements to the 10,340-square-foot, two-story structure, including enhanced outdoor lighting, and marketing the space to community organizations and as a venue for special occasions.

“It’s a labor of love and we love what we’re doing,” Mallett noted. “It’s really neat to see the community’s reactions.” 

He recalled a particularly heartfelt moment when a group of children from the Canaan Child Care Center attended one of the first free community movies, and a little boy started to cry. When asked what was wrong, the youngster kept saying “excited,” “excited,” in Spanish, Mallett recalled. “He couldn’t contain his emotions.”

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