Dennis Markaverich

Dennis Markaverich – Town Hall Theater

Dennis MarkaverichThe upper level of the Wilton Town Hall has been a theater of one kind or another since it was built in 1885. While used for town meetings, it also hosted touring vaudeville groups, minstrel shows, lectures and band concerts. They also played basketball. In 1912, it was showing silent movies, and by 1920, it was in regular use as a movie theater.

 Dennis Markaverich took it over in March of 1973. It had previously been operated by members of the Abbott family.

Town Halle Theater sign“The selectmen thought (a movie theater) was a great idea,” he said recently. “I had been working as a projectionist since high school.”

 He opened the smaller room for showing art films in 1988. “I have a certain clientele for that,” showing films not shown anywhere else. “It’s been a life-saver.”

Dennis is a Wilton native. “My parents moved to Holt Road in 1937. It was a camp and my father added and added to it, and it became our home.” He is still there. He graduated from Wilton High School in 1964. “I was a classmate of Dick Putnam.”

 He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1973. “I worked in communications and never went to Vietnam.” Then it was back to working in theaters. “In 1980, I took over the Peterborough Theater and I was dispatching full time for Milford. I loved that job. I don’t know how I did all that at once.”

After high school, he said, “I worked in all the grand theaters – The State and Daniel Webster in Nashua. I can look back on that with a lot of nostalgia, and it’s all gone. No more film. It’s all digital.” He added, “I was a projectionist and did everything else,” learning all the aspects of the job. The Shea Theater Circuit also owned those vanished theaters in Manchester - The State, Strand, Palace and The Rex – where he worked.

Dennis with popcornThe Town Hall Theater is known for its wonderful popcorn. That’s because he uses the best ingredients, coconut oil for the popping even though the price “has gone way up,” and a special flavored salt. And, of course, real butter, and it’s made fresh every night.  “When I worked for General Cinema, they had a popcorn room and made the popcorn once a week. I take pride in the popcorn. Most theaters don’t do that.”

Theater is in his blood, he said. “I loved theater as a little kid. My mother said I’d build a stage out of Kleenex boxes. I love all this stuff, working in theaters. The Daniel Webster was my favorite. That’s where I started, got my foot in the door.”

Besides the theater, Dennis winds the tower clock every day. “It needs to be adjusted,” he said. When it was repaired (a few years ago) “it ran like clockwork but now it gains five minutes a day.”

Is the theater haunted? That depends.  “We don’t know,” Dennis said. “Over the years some strange stuff has happened. I’m here alone at night and you can hear things, or think you hear things. On a couple of occasions, a couple of years ago, from the corner of my eye I saw someone walk into the theater. Vacuuming one day I saw a very tall man with a short heavy woman. Other things have happened, like a breeze when none of the doors and windows were open. The most common (place to see something) is on the landing,” of the stairs to the old projection room.

He added, “There were some paranormal people here and they were weird and I made them stop, go away and leave my ghosts alone.”

The pandemic has been hard on the theater. It was closed in March last year like all the others.

“We reopened in June 2020, the first in the state, and lasted three weeks. People weren’t coming” and he didn’t make the cost of the film. But they did come to the silent movies “and our Saturday classics.”

What has saved the theater is private parties, he said. “We did tons of those through the holidays, and office parties. I’m very grateful for that.” People could get together in the theater, spread out, and watch a movie of their choice.

But he is optimistic that people will come back, and he will have first run movies again.

“I’m doing this partly to please myself and it keeps the theater visible until we can get it going again.”

The theater may or may not have a ghost, but it does have a cat. Not officially, it lives across the street. “A nice cat,” he said. “It comes in every day and checks it out.”

People are starting to do that again, too.

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