New Mayfield Repertory Cinema

in Businesses and Stores

The New Mayfield Repertory Cinema, a gay-friendly movie theater, opened at 12300 Mayfield Road in 1975. Sheldon Wigod, an “English and drama professor and cinephile,” founded the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema as a “mecca for lovers of old movies and offbeat fare.” From the outset, Wigod endeavored to “create a ‘human’ place where film buffs could feel comfortable and at home.” Together with business partner Art Thomas, Wigod renovated the former Mayfield Theater and and reopened with a showing of La Strada (The Road), a 1954 Italian drama, in October 1975. The single-room New Mayfield Repertory Cinema could accommodate 600 patrons maximum per showing. Refreshments were available from the cinema’s Casablanca Bar, a refreshment stand adjacent to the rows of seating. Wigod regularly screened a variety of vintage and foreign films at the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema, the majority of which he introduced to audiences personally via an enthusiastic 10-minute pre-show monologue. Seeking to “broaden [his] audience’s experiences” though film, Wigod regularly chose to screen films that “would not play [elsewhere] in Cleveland otherwise.”

Wigod’s passion for film and willingness to show a variety of films “of particular interest” to the LGBT+ community gained him a particular following among LGBT+ moviegoers, many of whom regularly flocked to showings of vintage, foreign, and LGBT+ films and musicals at the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema. Wigod’s hospitality toward Cleveland’s LGBT+ communities extended far beyond the screen. In May 1976, the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema hosted a screening of the 1974 gay-positive film A Very Natural Thing as a benefit for the Gay Education Awareness and Resources (GEAR) Foundation‘s efforts to establish an LGBT+ community center in Cleveland. The successful benefit screening of A Very Natural Thing (GEAR’s second official community center fundraising event) was attended by 154 persons and contributed over $448 to GEAR’s LGBT Community Center fund.

Though the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema (and Wigod himself) developed a small but devoted following of Cleveland cinephiles, the revenue from ticket sales failed to surpass operating costs. By late 1977, the theater faced “financial collapse.” The New Mayfield Repertory Cinema’s fortune changed, however, after obtaining nonprofit status in 1978. Wigod remained as the theater’s artistic director and attempted to increase attendance by screening “only Hollywood classics” between 1979-1981. Theater attendance spiked during this two-year period, with surges in attendance regularly forcing Wigod to “set up [additional] chairs in the back of the theater” in order to accommodate the massive influx of patrons during showings of MGM retrospectives and other similar films. Attendance, however, began to drop again after 1981. In an effort to stem the tide of “declining attendance,” Wigod pivoted away from screening “Hollywood classics” toward showcasing predominantly “foreign movie fare and more offbeat films” between 1982-1985. Compounded by the rise of home video and the accessibility of classic films on VHS, attendance at the cinema continued to sharply decline every year after 1981. Citing “declining audiences,” a lack of revenue, and an outstanding “$28,000 debt” as contributing factors, Wigod shuttered the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema in December 1985.


Additional information coming soon.

Resources

  • “”A Very Natural Thing” Benefits Center.” High Gear. May 1976. Page 3.
  • Batdorff, Emerson. “New Mayfield Cinema Gets Grant to Build Audience.” Plain Dealer. January 9, 1980.
  • Batdorff, Emerson. “Reels Roll Again At Little Italy Theater.” Plain Dealer. October 3, 1975.
  • Batdorff, Emerson. “Who Attends the Old Movies?” Plain Dealer. December 31, 1978.
  • Bossard, Bruce, and Mark J. D’Alessio. “Reader’s Criticism of Theater Audience is Called Unfair.” Plain Dealer. October 24, 1976.
  • Chernin, Donna. “Mayfield Repertory Theater Launches New Series.” Plain Dealer. July 15, 1977.
  • Chernin, Donna. “NMRC Having A Rough Time.” Plain Dealer. May 13, 1983.
  • “Cinema Benefit.” High Gear. June 1976. Page 14.
  • DeMarco, Laura. “Cleveland Movie Legend Sheldon Wigod Started New Mayfield Repertory Cinema.” Cleveland.com. April 25, 2016.
  • DeMio, W. E. “Smart Cracks From Audience Can Ruin A Movie.” Plain Dealer. October 10, 1976.
  • “Film Festival Features Harvey Milk Movie.” Gay People’s Chronicle. April 1985. Page 11.
  • Mueller, Roxanne T. “Film About Homosexuality is Rated Mostly A Curiosity.” Plain Dealer. October 18, 1984.
  • Mueller, Roxanne T. “New Mayfield Cinema is Dark After 10 Years.” Plain Dealer. December 24, 1985.
  • “New Mayfield Ends.” Gay People’s Chronicle. January 1986. Page 3.
  • “New Mayfield Schedules Benefit.” Plain Dealer. September 12, 1979.
  • Ross, Aaron. “As I See It.” High Gear. December 1977. Page 16.
  • Roy, Chris. “Mayfield Theater: Little Italy’s Long-Dormant Movie House.” Cleveland Historical.
  • Samerdyke, Michael. “Spellbound at the New Mayfield.” In The Gamut Looks at Cleveland (Special Edition). Cleveland: Cleveland State University, 1986. Page 88-90.
  • Wolff, Carlo. “Cinema Pioneer Sheldon Wigod Starred at New Mayfield Repertory.” Cleveland Jewish News. May 12, 2016.
12300 Mayfield Rd, Cleveland, OH 44106

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