We Hear You America: Higginsville, Missouri

Without a modern projector so residents can watch digital movies, the Davis Theatre, a fixture in Higginsville since the 1930s, might not survive. Unwilling to accept that, townspeople banded together and cast millions of votes in the We Hear You America competition.

By Damon Beres

We Hear You America: Higginsville, MissouriPhotograph by Tamara Reynolds
The lights may’ve gone dark at the Davis Theatre in Higginsville as the future arrived in the form of digital cinematography. An historic theater built in the 1930s, the Davis screens its films in the 35mm format, increasingly viewed as outdated by major movie studios. To upgrade from a traditional projector to a digital model can cost upwards of $70,000: an overwhelming price for this town of less than 5,000 residents.

To sacrifice the Davis would mean more than an end to screenings on Higginsville’s Main Street. There would be fewer jobs for teens, no more midnight openings and costume parties for hits like “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games,” and the end to the best popcorn—with free refills—in western Missouri.

“That theatre is a focal point of the town. Our kids can walk there and be safe with their friends seeing a movie,” said Marybeth Fuller, a Higginsville teacher. “We don’t have to drive 30 miles to the nearest megaplex. We can bask in the converted glory of the theatre with its plasterwork, velvet, and original art.”

A “fluke,” as Fuller puts it, may have saved the Davis. Her husband brought a Reader’s Digest home from the grocery store one day, she saw an ad for the We Hear You America contest, messaged a group of local advocates, and within days the community had produced enough votes to put the town in 10th place.

“We had overnight, 24-hour lock-ins,” said Colleen King, president of Friends of the Davis, which is devoted to fundraising for the theatre. “When our story caught the interest of the Kansas City Star, they did an article that wound up on the front page of the paper. Then the Associated Press picked it up and it went national. People heard about it all over the country, and they joined up and helped us vote.”

Nearly 4 million votes later, Higginsville earned the second place spot and enough funding to upgrade the cherished landmark.

But residents won’t stop there. Friends of the Davis hopes to purchase the theatre from its current owners and make it a community-owned space for the performing and visual arts.

“It’s still one of my favorite places to go,” said King, who recalled taking her son to summer matinees at the Davis when he was just a baby. “I feel like I’m part of the family.”

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