10 years of the Cary Theater

  • 0
Photo by Josh Mannning



The Cary Theater’s distinctive art deco–style neon sign has been glowing over Chatham Street for a decade now. Along with the Cary Arts Center and the Page‑Walker Arts and History Center, The Cary was opened as part of a plan to bring art experiences into downtown Cary. It owes its success to the passion its employees and volunteers have brought to the venture—and to municipal support that few 21st century arthouse theaters enjoy.

The Cary shows indie films and second-run films, emphasizing affordability. It brings in international films, classics, documentaries, kids’ movies, short films and almost every other kind of movie beyond the first-run films that are shown at most local theaters. 

It also showcases musicians, comedy shows and other live talent. Finally, it offers opportunities for local artists—especially filmmakers, screenwriters, songwriters and musicians—to learn their craft, network and, of course, show their work.


The building that houses The Cary was a movie theater in the 1940s, also called The Cary—hence the contemporary theater’s art deco look, which hearkens back to its origins. The original Cary theater also brought in both films and live performers, including Patsy Cline. Over the years, the space became a recording studio and several other businesses before the town bought it in 2011 and reestablished it as a theater. The Cary’s second floor displays a collection of artifacts from the building’s history, including seats from the original movie theater and a sun mosaic, a remnant of the building’s recording studio days.

In restoring the building, the town both celebrated its history and offered a walking-distance option for people to enjoy affordable films. “Not too many people can just walk to a movie theater from their house,” says Lani Simeona, operations and programs supervisor for The Cary. “And that may go hand in hand with the opening of the Cary Arts Center and then having an arts destination downtown—being able to provide an arthouse cinema within walking distance of the downtown community.”



As an arthouse film venue focusing on indie and second-run films, The Cary offers an increasingly rare experience. “A lot of arthouses have gone to [mainstream film] because it’s a moneymaker,” says Simeona. “What makes us unique—and this is rare in the whole arthouse industry throughout the U.S.—is that we’re owned and operated by the town. I’m part of a number of arthouse groups from all around the U.S., and they’re amazed that the Town of Cary invests in the arts the way it does, and they feel we are very lucky—which we are.”

With a consistent source of income, The Cary can afford to focus on second-run and indie work while keeping prices low. “It’s actually a very affordable place to bring a family. You can’t see movies in too many places for six bucks or less,” says Simeona.

Christmas movies are a huge draw, especially the annual “White Christmas” Sing-along. Film series and other offerings also lean into seasonal themes, diversity heritage months and other thematic offerings. The summer months will see the annual Summer Retro Series, for example.

Diverse representation is an important aspect of film selection for Simeona. “My vision for The Cary is to really bring in a diverse lineup of programming. And that’s everything from films directed by women, films directed by and about people of color … Just making sure each month, we are representing different groups,” she says.


Film Festivals

Film festivals are some of the most popular events at The Cary, especially Beyond: The Cary Film Festival, held each September, which offers exciting opportunities for emerging filmmakers and screenwriters. “That’s probably our biggest event of the year,” says Simeona. “It’s bringing in filmmakers from all over North Carolina and the Southeast, and a lot of industry people as well. So it’s probably our most high-profile event.” The event focuses on short films—40 minutes or less in length—and screenplays. Participants can win cash prizes available in several categories. Winning screenplays also get live table reads at the festival.

October brings Zombiepalooza, another popular film festival—this one showcasing filmmakers and hobbyists of all ages and skill levels from North Carolina. Competitors create 5-minute zombie films, each of which must creatively incorporate a prop (this year’s prop is candy corn). The free event also includes a costume contest, with prizes awarded after the film screenings. This year’s Zombiepalooza will take place at Downtown Cary Park’s Great Lawn & Pavilion. “People really love it,” says Simeona. “It’s been sold out the past few years.”

The Cary offers other film festivals and opportunities for emerging artists and filmmakers throughout the year, though Beyond and Zombiepalooza are the most popular.


Live Performances

The Cary also supports local and regional artists as a venue for live musical performances. “Our live performances do really well—almost all of them are sold out,” says Simeona. The staff showcases a wide variety of genres, trying to provide something that will appeal to everyone. “The acoustics in here are so good. It’s a very intimate venue for live shows,” says Simeona.

Most of the performers are local or regional talent. In this context of live performance, as in film, The Cary encourages emerging artists. Jason Adamo, a Raleigh-based singer, songwriter and host of the YouTube show “On The Record With Jason Adamo” presents Songwriters in the Round, in which local songwriters talk about and perform their music. The Cary also offers comedy nights and other types of live performance.


Plans for the Future

So what’s next for The Cary? This summer will see an upgrade. “We’re getting new seats!” enthuses Simeona. “They’re more movie theater seats. Definitely more comfortable, with higher backs, cupholders, things like that. So it will be a better cinematic experience for people.”

Simeona hopes to add more opportunities for new filmmakers. “I’d like to do more year-round workshops—filmmaker workshops, screenwriting workshops, songwriting workshops—here at the theater, and [focus on] how we can support local filmmakers.”

In the coming season, The Cary also hopes to bring programming into other parts of Cary. “Right now all of the arts are downtown, so we’re trying to take some of the things we do annually and [bring] them to other areas of Cary,” says Simeona. Events might include, for example, an outdoor film with an opening musical performance and food trucks.

The Cary’s team is full of plans—lectures, expert-guided film discussions—and the public offers plenty of suggestions. “The staff works really hard to make it a really welcoming place for everyone,” says Simeona. “The staff, our volunteers, patrons who come through the door—they’re so great. It’s such a really lovely space to be in. That’s probably what I love most about The Cary. We meet all kinds of interesting people every day.” 

Check out more from around the Western Wake at 5westmag.com.

Sassool’s sisters make Mediterranean food a labor of love
Prev Post Sassool’s sisters make Mediterranean food a labor of love
Men’s and Women’s Soccer Teams Compete at TST for a $1 Million Prize in Cary
Next Post Men’s and Women’s Soccer Teams Compete at TST for a $1 Million Prize in Cary
Related Posts