Tim O\'Brien and The Process Roll Out the Red Carpet at THE VASSAR THEATRE

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre, Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 655   By: Robert E Martin

28th February, 2008     0

As an aficionado of film, beauty, and the miraculous synthesis that occurs upon the silver screen when a film is viewed by a community within the wondrous walls of a restored movie palace, as opposed to the drab concrete walls of a multiplex, Tim O'Brien is decidedly in a class all his own.

A former owner of The State Theatre in Bay City and Green Acres Cinema in Saginaw, O'Brien purchased The Vassar Theatre back in 1990 with a dream of restoring it to its former glory.

After investing over $500,000 and well over 13 years of his life, O'Brien executed the restoration almost single-handedly and re-opened the theatre in November 2005, where it continues to run feature films weekly.

O'Brien believes that where you see a film is as important as the movie itself and apart from the restoration, he has seen that the venue is equipped with professional 35 mm film projection and premium Dolby Digital sound enhanced by four 18 inch JBL subwoofers and 14 surround speakers.

On Saturday, March 22nd, O'Brien will be hosting a different type of entertainment at the restored venue when he brings fellow Vassarites The Process into the theatre for a Live Concert at 7:00 PM with special guests Stamp'd for an 'all ages' show.

The Process will be filming their next live DVD 'Urban Guerrillas' at the venue and encourage everyone to become a part of history and experience the unique fusion of a 'Rock Reggae Implosion' and laser light show within the walls of this historic venue.

Recently I caught up with both Tim O'Brien and The Process' David Asher to discuss the significance of this unique fusion of performer, venue, and artistic vision.

Review: Having realized your dream of restoring such a grand old Dame' of a building to its original splendor, what does it feel like to walk through the doors each day?
O'Brien: I've been walking through these same doors for seventeen years during which time I've worn many different hats.  At times I've been the designer/architect, carpenter, electrician, plumber, booth technician, dry waller and much more.

I'm now consumed with the day-to-day operations of the theatre, which doesn't leave much time to continue the restoration details that still need be addressed.  When I walk through the doors on any give day, I see more work than time will allow.  Of course at this point, I'd rather be selling movie tickets than sanding drywall.  

Review: What's it feel like doing this show in your hometown of Vassar in this restored jewel of a theatre?

Asher: Well it is a dream venue. Tim O'Brien is a very determined man who made it his project to restore the theater over more than a dozen years. This is our first show in our hometown since our last show there in 1991. Bill Heffelfinger, Garrick Owen and I all are originally from Vassar. We have lots of friends and family I hope make it out to the show from all over!

Review:  What is the most challenging component of keeping an entity like the Vassar Theatre going?
O'Brien: The biggest challenge is perhaps the same as for any small town business in a troubled economy: keeping the operation viable and competitive by offering products or services to meet your customers demands while maintaining a tight control over costs.

Unlike a restaurant whose menu may cater to many different tastes, a single screen movie theatre lives or dies according to the movie du jour.  It is essential to offer a breadth of programming that is embraced by the community.  It's always a challenge.

Review:  Weapons of Mass Percussion was nominated for a Grammy and has received considerable attention. Do you consider it your most successful endeavor and what have The Process been up to lately? Are you back in the studio?
Asher: Weapons has been very successful but I think a lot of that has to do with the band reaching "critical mass" after nearly 20 years together. Of course all of the attention has been a great blessing. I really like all three of the albums we did with Gee Pierce producing. "Blood and Bones" has sold very well. I also like "Craven Dog" a lot and hope to reissue it again soon. "Weapons" is a very timely album, with a lot of spooky sound bytes from the so-called "War On Terror". It is a real departure in terms of the sound of the band, even though it is a remix project.

Recently, we started out own pre-production studio and we will finish the tracks up with Gee Pierce in Saginaw. We have been working with a couple of different artists in London as well.

Review: How did that come about?
Asher: Well, such is the power of the Internet. One is an amazing female artist I met named Mikki who is helping out with vocals on our new single, due to be released later this year. Her parts for the single are being recorded in London. She is working on her first album, with Skip McDonald (Sugar Hill Gang, TackHead, Little Axe) producing. 

We also wrote another song for the single with an incredible singer from London named Ghetto Priest. That man Ghetto Priest is so much what music needs right now to me. He does very diverse styles of music, from reggae to rock to hip hop and he tours all over Europe.
We actually wrote a song together online, a duet called "The Lion Of Judah". It really turned out great. I had never worked in that way before and it felt very natural.

Review:  Can you calibrate the success of the theatre since its restoration? Has it been financially successful and do you get a different form of appreciation from customers because of the work and dedication you've shown to the venue?
O'Brien: In defiance of the pundits that predicted our demise, I'm happy to say that the doors are still open and business continues to grow.  Nobody gets into this business or stays in it that is not willing to live off of popcorn and peanut butter, but that's the only way it will work.

This is a different type of movie experience than can be had at the multiplex.  People largely come here because of that difference.  It is very gratifying when a customer returns to the theatre after many years and lights up when they describe their first date or first kiss here.  One guy told me a childhood story about how the movie he was watching was interrupted so that the management could announce the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

I guess it is that history - that place in the local heritage that makes these theatres special.      

Review: What is the significance of the Process event and do you anticipate doing more of these types of shows?
O'Brien: I hosted The Process first in a concert seventeen years ago when I first acquired the theatre.  This is a sort of "homecoming" in that we're welcoming the band back on stage in their hometown theatre all these years later.  It's interesting that we're still plying our respective crafts after all this time, although we've both benefited from the wisdom that can only come from experience.

I have an immense respect for Dave Asher and The Process for their passion and dedication to their music.  Theirs has not been an easy road to travel, but their fresh original work continues to be recognized and appreciated in ever-larger circles.  I hope that this event will help to advance that.

If this event is well received, I would certainly like to continue to explore the potential for more live entertainment and alternative
programming in addition to film.

Asher: Well this is a very special show, as we are filming it for an upcoming DVD release. We have a very impressive laser light show with more than 30 lasers on a big truss and they all work together with the music. It is awesome. Plus we will be using our animated films, on the big screen, which we have not used in a long while.
If all goes well, perhaps we will have the chance to bring other performers into the venue. I hope so.

Review: Having been involved in the theatre business for so long, what is your definition of a 'successful theatre'?
O'Brien: A successful theatre is one that continues to thrive - to entertain and enhance the culture of the community - while being self-sufficient.

Most of the old theatres are now transitioning into the public sector where they are "saved" by a 501c3 corporation comprised of people who know as much about restoring and running theatres as the local bump shop.  These groups are often able to access millions in public and private monies, which finance huge restoration projects that would not be possible or practical in the private sector. Volunteers and boards of directors who do not have a vested interest in the operation run these "community" theatres.  In many cases, the theatres do not generate revenues sufficient to meet their overhead (especially where paid staff is employed) and continue to be dependent on private donations and tax dollars in the form of grants.

While none of this is a bad thing (and certainly better than the wrecking ball), it is vastly different operating a classic historic theatre in the private sector where those few that continue to exist, do so only because the owner/operator is willing to give much more than take. 
When people wax nostalgic about their childhood experiences seeing movies in their hometown theatre, I think this is what they have in mind.

Review; Any words to the fans?

Asher: Well I would love to thank them for the wonderful support they have given us through the last 17 or so years. Without them it would not have been possible to keep The Process going.  I hope to see you all out at the show so I can tell you all in person how much we love you all!
Tickets for The Process Live in Concert at the Vassar Theatre are only $6.00. The Vassar Theatre is located at 140 E. Huron in downtown Vassar. For more details call the theatre at 989-823-4000 or go to


Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?