Graham and Gail Sutherland purchased The Rustic Theatre, now renamed The Rustic Theatre and Entertainment Center, Oct. 24, 2020. In the middle of the pandemic, the theater was unable to open to show movies until last weekend.

According to the website, the theater was originally opened as a side job for Nina and Glenn Froehlich, who worked for the California Electric Power Company.

From left, Gail and Graham Sutherland in the lobby of The Rustic Theatre and Entertainment Center.
PHOTO BY JENNY KIRCHNER

The duo started the theater in 1949 at the current location of the Silver Pines Lodge, across the street from Town Hall. In 1952, the theater was relocated to its current location after the construction of the building was complete.

“We wanted to open up appropriately with the original movie that was very first played in the theater, considering we are doing exactly like the original owners, living here and being a part of the community,” Graham said.

“Red Mountain” was the first movie shown in the theater in 1952. The Sutherlands chose to show “Red Mountain” on the big screen over the weekend. The showing was free.

“We wanted to open up appropriately with the original movie that was very first played in the theater, considering we are doing exactly like the original owners, living here and being a part of the community,” Graham said.

The theater has seen multiple owners over the years but the Sutherlands are excited to bring much more than just movies to the community. Last weekend was the first weekend they were able to open the theater, even though they have been selling concessions in recent months to try to keep the business afloat.

Excited movie goers make their way into The Rustic Theatre and Entertainment Center Saturday afternoon to catch the free showing of “Red Mountain.”
PHOTO BY JENNY KIRCHNER

The couple, who were high school sweethearts and are originally from South Africa, moved to Idyllwild from Bermuda Dunes. They live in the apartment above the theater.

“My commute is 13 steps down the stairs,” Graham said. “I love it.”

The theater is already scheduling entertainment in addition to showing blockbuster movies. On May 1, they will have their first comedian in the new beer garden they are creating behind the theater. Mother War, a band out of Indio, will be performing over Easter weekend, and with any luck from the production company, the first Blockbuster movie will be “Tom & Jerry The Movie.”

“It’s been a great experience so far,” Graham said. “We are excited.”

Graham has been in the music business for years. His company, GraSar Productions Inc., provides sound, lighting, video, staging and event engineering services. It is also the parent company for the theater. 

“We want to be the entertainment center of our community,” Graham explained. “It’s a really cool community. We’ve been talking to folks in L.A. to do some TedX talks and talking to bands and comedians.”

There’s a VIP green room available, new carpet and running lights down the aisles in the theater. New chairs and a sound system were installed in recent years.

Inside The Rustic Theatre and Entertainment Center.
PHOTO BY JENNY KIRCHNER

“There’s so much talent up here; it’s ridiculous,” Graham said. “The community has been super great and they have been really nice about everything.”

Movie show times will be Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Any other events will be held after 8 p.m.

Keeping in compliance with Riverside County Public Health, there is social distancing and sanitizer stations throughout the theater. The theater is also providing blankets to keep warm while watching movies. Every blanket is washed after each use.

If you’re interested in further details or booking an event with the theater, you can send an email to [email protected], visit https://www.rustictheatre.com or follow them on Instagram @rustictheatre.