Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. At 7 p.m. on a Friday night a few weeks ago, the Backdoor Theater showed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a redone classic film that offers life lessons from a teacup, a clock and a disfigured man.
The theater filled rapidly with local middle level and some high school kids, their arms filled with popcorn, candy and soft drinks as they vied for the best seats on the left side of the theater. As middle level students are wont to do, they squeezed into their seats in groups, having been dropped off, left to their own vices which included sugar, migrating from group to group, and shouting across the rows. They created a lively din.
Kids having a great time on a Friday night, full of energy and hope at what could happen, ready to burst with life and the prospect of enlarging their social life.
At 7 p.m., at the height of the hubbub, Kayla Evans, the heart of the Backdoor Theater, strides down the aisle toward the front of the stage. She carries a bucket full of the ticket stubs. A volunteer follows her with a bucket of candy.
A murmur waves over the audience as all eyes are on Kayla. She stands for a moment, looking out at the rows of children. Her long silver/blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Her long-sleeved shirt tucked into her jeans. Slowly, one eyebrow arches as the kid clamor continues.
“We can start the movie now or we can raffle off the prizes in the bucket,” she tells the kids. A hush billows over the audience, muffling the occasional giggles, murmured secrets.
Kayla then welcomes the adolescents, telling them that their presence comes with the responsibility to be respectful, to pay attention to the rules, to clean up after themselves and to show the community that they have pride in themselves and each other.
One night she looked at a nine-year-old girl sitting near the front row, her eyes falling on a pile of spilled popcorn next to the girl’s feet and asked her if the popcorn was hers. “Not mine,” responded the girl.
Kayla gave her the eye, the arched eyebrow and told the girl that little lies could become a habit, that they could become big lies and that it is better to ‘fess up to an accident,’ a mistake, and fix it, rather than deny it.
Then, Kayla gently asked the girl to clean up the popcorn and went on with the business of calling out the ticket numbers. Winners jumped up, waving the lucky tickets and shrieking triumphantly as they got to pick their choice of concession stand items: Junior Mints, Dots, chocolate bars, Good and Plenty. The joy of winning was commensurate with the surprise and delight of scratching a winning lottery ticket. Groaning losers studied their tickets, trying to make the numbers appear.
One boy, pretending he had the winning ticket when no one else claimed it, was found out, which led to a Kayla tidbit about honesty and integrity and doing what was right instead of trying to get away with something. She never let the words linger long, always getting back to the job at hand. Always coming up with a bit of humor that the audience relished.
After getting the crowd calmed down, Kayla announced upcoming films and then had everyone sing Happy Birthday to two middle level girls who, blushing, stood at the front of the stage. Kayla hugged each of them, defining her caring for the kids in our community.
Attending the Backdoor Theater is not just going to the movies: it is becoming a part of the unique force that makes Nederland a way of life, not just a place.
A great surge of change is taking place in our town: construction within town limits, long-time business owners leaving the door open for younger people to take over, remodel, take away and add to what is already here.
No other town in this country has a theater like the Backdoor. If you have never attended a movie there, you are missing one of the large pieces of the Ned puzzle. The show goes on due to the vitality that Kayla and many volunteers put into making it a welcoming, bonding and extraordinary experience, and that’s before the movie begins.
If a teapot can offer advice and life lessons, then much can also be learned from Kayla and her messages to the local kids on their Friday night outings.
Our Backdoor Theater is a local treasure and needs to be cherished and supported; the volunteers need to be thanked and Kayla needs to know how much we appreciate her individual style of running a movie theater.
May it never change.