The following is part of a series by TSE Entertainment to highlight some of the special venues we work with to bring entertainment to their communities. We urge everyone to support their efforts. This article will profile the Landis Theatre in Vineland, N.J.
Imagine you could go back in time and relive some of your favorite childhood moments. Where would you go and what would you do? Maybe you’d travel back to your teenage years where all you had to worry about was what team your school was playing on Friday night and making it home before curfew. Perhaps you’d travel even further, going back to an even younger age. To a time where days in their entirety were spent outside and the term “Facebook” could only mean that you spent an arduous amount of time reading.
For Ray Mamrak, some of his fondest childhood memories were days spent going into town with his father. The pair would travel to Vineland, New Jersey, a vibrant city packed with a plethora of shops, an array of food options, and home to the last drive-in movie theater in the state of New Jersey. Located at the midpoint between the Jersey Shore and the Big Apple, Vineland was a lively city that attracted passerby’s and regularly kept the locals entertained. However, as the years went on, Vineland’s light began to fade. No longer resembling the town he treasured as a child, Mamrak is hoping to flip the switch and bring the light back to Vineland. The light at the end of the tunnel? The Landis Theater.
The Landis Theater was constructed in 1937 and had its official grand opening in March of that year. Located on the theater’s namesake Landis Street, this venue became a feature attraction for all people bustling about in the city. The theater was initially built to be a traditional movie theater, yet the physical appearance of the building alone was enough to draw people in. The Landis Theater’s Art Deco was the work of architect William Lee. Lee designed many theaters during his architectural career and his unique Art Deco style was similar to the buildings being built in France during that time. Construction began in November 1936 and, with 75 construction workers employed each day, it only took four months for the entire venue to be completed.
At the time of its opening, the Landis Theater was truly ahead of its time. The theatre originally featured state-of-the-art technology including the sound and speakers, lighting, and air conditioning systems. At the time, Vineland had two other theaters, but both were said to be of “antiquated construction, were uncomfortable, unsanitary, and were believed to be unsafe.” The addition of the Landis Theater came at precisely the right time. The theater prospered for 50 years until it ultimately decided to close its doors to the community in 1987.
After its closing, the Landis Theater went through a period of restoration as part of a major redevelopment plan for Vineland’s main street. In 2001, the theater became part of the National Register of Historic Places. Yet the building was still closed off to the public. Several attempts were made to revive this once prosperous cinema, but all were met with the same unsuccessful end. It wasn’t until 2005 that the city acquired the building and officially reopened the venue two years later. No longer a cinema, the Landis Theater was repurposed and became a center for performing arts. During this time, the theater began to morph into the venue that it is today, but the city’s effort to upkeep this new endeavor was not met with as much fervor as may have been intended.
Ray Mamrak saw a need and took it upon himself to fill it. He remembered the once-prosperous theater and Mamrak still saw a glimmer of potential in the building that had multiple failed attempts at reopening. He purchased the building and is now the owner and operator of the Landis Theater alongside his girlfriend, Kaysey Rae Zelkovsky. The building that Ray purchased looks very different than the one initially constructed in the 30s, and it continues to adapt to stay relevant to today’s trends. The Landis Theater Performing Arts Center seats 750 patrons and includes an elevator to the luxurious mezzanine. An expanded stage and fly area can accommodate all types of performing arts productions. The backstage expansion provides support areas for the Theater including dressing rooms, bathrooms with showers, rehearsal space, theater support area, and a Green Room. Additionally, The Theater lobby can accommodate corporate and community events. Dining venues include Mauro’s On The Ave, that can serve up to 160 guests including an exciting outdoor dining area. Upstairs is an exquisite banquet hall which can accommodate up to 250 people. There is ample parking for the Theater, Banquet facility and restaurant within a one block radius.
The Landis Theater Performing Arts Center and Mauro’s On The Ave serve as the perfect venue for event planners and local organizations to rent and host their special events. Local groups will find the Theater, restaurant, and banquet facility the ideal place for corporate, weddings and private party occasions.
The Landis Theatre welcomes all forms of performances and entertainment to their venue. “As long as the theater isn’t destroyed, anyone is welcome,” Mamrak says with a laugh. The theater has hosted events for entertainment ranging from dinner theater, to comedians, and all acts in between. While anyone is welcomed to showcase their act, the Landis specializes in live music and, sticking to its roots, film productions. Mamrak states that rock is one of the venue’s most common genres but he’s hoping to branch out and include more musical variety, particularly in the country music genre.
Ray has a lot of up-and-coming ideas for his newly acquired theatre, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a giant roadblock in the middle of his path. In March of 2020, the United States shut down to prevent the spread of the disease that was causing so much havoc on nations around the world. As time progressed, the economy started to open back up slowly but surely. The businesses that reopened operate a lot differently than they did merely a year ago. One industry still struggles to open at all: the entertainment industry. Millions of businesses suffered at the hands of the disease, but live entertainment venues continue to be negatively affected. They were the first to close and they will be the last to re-open but, nearly a year after the pandemic reached America, things are starting to look up for live entertainment.
The Landis Theater has been preparing to reopen to the public, but not without the proper precautions in place. The venue is doing everything in its power to bring quality live entertainment back to its community while keeping all of those in attendance as safe as possible. Until things get better, the theater will have a limited capacity. While it can hold hundreds of people within its walls, the venue will have a capacity of 150 persons; that’s less than 25% of what it usually holds. Individuals will be able to purchase their tickets for shows before the event online, and once they arrive, they will be asked a series of health questions at the door. In addition to these questions, temperatures will also be taken. Mamrak assured that all ticket takers will be gloved, masked, and tested before their shift.
Once safely inside, ticket holders will be shown to their seats. This set up is similar to that of a sit-down restaurant and ensures that everyone finds their proper seat and is socially distanced from other members of the audience. People can sit together in up to groups of three and all seats in the main room are roped off so that these three-seat-sections are six feet apart from each other. Security will be present to oversee that all COVID-19 safety precautions are being adhered to by everyone in attendance. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the facility and masks will be available at the door for anyone who needs one. Mamrak states that he and his team are “taking every measure possible and going a little bit further because safety is [his] main concern.”
If there’s one thing everyone has learned from this pandemic, it’s that no one knows what the future holds. But when looking ahead, Mamrak stays hopeful about the fate of the Landis Theatre. While he’s certainly hoping to bring business back through his doors, his plans extend much further than that. Ray Mamrak wants to transform the avenue- to breathe life back into Vineland. He hopes that by successfully reopening the Landis, people will be drawn back to the city thus further attracting other business owners into the area. This domino effect will change the city for the better and Ray is looking forward to bringing back the thriving town of his youth.
TSE Entertainment’s Erin Cameron is working with Ray to find the right entertainment for the Landis Theater. TSE is proud to support his efforts with the Landis Theater. We look forward to helping him secure great entertainment for years to come. Event planners should consider the Landis Theater in their plans as well.
To support the Landis Theater in their efforts to reopen, visit https://thelandistheater.com/ for more information on upcoming events.