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Hologram Concerts of Dead Legends Could Be Next Life for New Regal Theater

By Sam Cholke | February 17, 2016 5:35am
New Regal Kickstarter
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New Regal Theater

AVALON PARK — Can the New Regal Theater on East 79th Street find new life by calling on legends from beyond the grave?

That's the hope of the theater's owner, who is trying to raise enough cash to install hologram projectors inside the massive theater, allowing patrons to watch long dead performers in their prime.

Think of Barry White gracing the famed stage. Or Sam Cooke. Jackie Wilson. Even Redd Foxx.

The New Regal Theater is fundraising to install holographic projectors and open by the end of the year. [Eric Allix Rogers/Courtesy of the New Regal Theater]

Advances in technology would allow for holograms that could fill the Regal's stage, an innovation that would "revolutionize the way people experience concerts," according to a Kickstarter campaign to fund part of the project.

Jerald Gary, the owner of the nearly 90-year-old theater at 1641 E. 79th St., launched the Kickstarter campaign Tuesday to raise $150,000, the last bit of capital needed to reopen the theater by the end of the year, complete with four high-end holographic projectors.

“It’s like watching a really high definition clear television,” Gary said.

He said he got the idea after seeing the technology used on CNN and on shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to make it look like two people in different locations were together. Gary said he was expected to be disappointed when he flew out to Beverly Hills, Calif., to visit Hologram USA and get a demonstration.

“I thought holograms sounds cooler than it looks,” Gary said. “But the projector technology is amazing — the definition is out of control.”

Gary said he’s hoping to use it to bring performances to the theater that otherwise could never have happened. He said he’s working now on recreating performances by Jackie Wilson and Redd Foxx.

“It’s not just concerts and interviews, it’s whatever you can do with CGI [computer-generated images,” Gary said.

He said the projectors will be able to create holograms as big as the Regal’s stage, which is slightly larger than the Chicago Theater Downtown.

“I think eventually it’s going to take over movies,” Gary said. “We’re using the Regal as the test ground.”

Gary said the $150,000 he is trying to raise would be the last of what he needs to raise to get $800,000 in repair work done to the bathrooms, roof patches and other minor repairs necessary before the city will issue a license allowing public events in the theater.

He said conservatively the 2,250-seat theater needs $6 million in work, $2.5 million of which is façade repairs. The theater opened in 1927 as the Avalon Theater. With Moorish Revival themes, it was used for vaudeville, and later morphed into a movie house until the 1970s.

He said the theater remains in excellent condition after getting more than $20 million in restoration in the 1980s and now just needs updates to electrical and plumbing systems to reopen. 

“There's not a whole lot of work we need to do beyond what’s in the walls,” Gary said.

The 1980s restoration led to a name change from the Avalon to the New Regal Theater, a homage to the original Regal Theater in Bronzeville.

He’s hoping to open by the end of the year and provide arts programming for neighborhood kids and an outlet for a South Side Chicago arts scene that he thinks is just waiting for a venue.

“We’re not just going to be looking to do nonprofit work; actually there’s a whole lot of demand for a venue on the South Side,” Gary said. “There is a large middle-class community that is here and goes to these kinds of shows.”

Gary had raised $300 from four backers on the first day toward the $150,000 goal.

The New Regal Theater's owner said he thinks holograms may someday replace movies and wants the theater to be a testing ground.

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