Milford Theatre set for rebirth. Owners start renovations for May opening

MILFORD, Pa. — Jerry Beaver set the closing date for his purchase of the Milford Theatre on April Fools’ Day because he thought it was unlikely to happen. But Beaver was the one who was fooled. “The closing went very smoothly,” he said, a little astonished. Beaver, a casting director in Manhattan, longtime Pike County resident, and founder of Milford’s Black Bear Film Festival, bought the Milford landmark with his business partner, Dru Whitaker, who owns two technically oriented companies in the New York City metro area. On Monday a crew arrived to start repairs. Beaver and Whitaker hope to open the theater in May. While some might see the theater as a disaster of an old building, Beaver sees a space for live theater, lectures, music, dance and screenings of classic films and art house films. “Everybody deserves a bit of entertainment,” he said. “And (Pike County) deserves a place where the community can come together.” The historic Milford Theatre has seen better days. It was built for summer touring companies in Milford’s heyday. But the theater closed two years ago because of disrepair. After that, countless people were linked with ambitious plans to revitalize the old live theater-turned-never-quite-profitable first-run-movie-house-turned-boarded-up building. Ironically, Beaver wasn’t associated with any of these plans. But when the owner of the building made him an offer, he decided to just do it. On Tuesday Beaver and several workers were on their second day of assessing the renovations. “I can’t tell you how much it will cost,” he said. “It keeps changing.” In his role as a casting director, however, Beaver is used to seeing potential. He was one of the first to see potential in actor Edward Norton and was instrumental in getting him cast in the movie “Primal Fear,” his breakout film. He also was one of a group of people who helped to form the Signature Theater Company in Manhattan, where he worked with distinguished American playwrights like Arthur Miller, Edward Albee and Romulus Linney. But “his baby” is Milford’s Black Bear Film Festival, which he founded and ran for a number of years. The festival used to center on the Milford Theatre but after it closed, it had to move its screenings to Delaware Valley High School. That took the festival out of the main business district, much to the chagrin of business owners. “There are really two reasons to do this,” said Beaver, standing in the middle of the theater’s stage. “There’s economic development and there’s enriching the cultural life of the community.” He paused and looked around. “And I want people in Pike County to be able to see the same films I see in Manhattan.”.