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The man behind the magic

Theater owner returns to downtown Nevada City

 Stacy Drake-Robinson

Nevada City Advocate


Ross Woodbury is at it again, and his cinematic career in Nevada City has come full circle. 


Ross founded the iconic Magic Theatre in 1980 at his current location, 240 Commercial Street and above Sushi Q restaurant. His newest 33-seat cinema is temporarily called the Manic Theater until he can settle on a more permanent name. If you were ever in the original Magic Theatre that Ross owned and operated for 20 years, you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a familiar place and face. 


Oriental carpets on the walls, an intimate setting to watch the movie, the iconic concession stand selling freshly popped popcorn, tea, cookies and sparkling waters and Ross serving it all up. There is something new about the Manic Theater though – Ross’ extensive video library representing the different formats for viewing over the years, VHS, CD, DVD and everything costs one dollar. You can do some browsing while waiting for your refreshments. 


Ross moved to Nevada County when he was 11 and graduated from Nevada Union High School. He moved away in the ’70s to pursue his career in mass communications. 


“I visited Nevada City often because my parents still lived here. I was drawn to move back in the late ’70s when the town was going through its renaissance. Thinking about what I could do here, I remember thinking ‘wow, I really love movies,’ so I started looking around for a venue. I loosely modeled my dream theater after one in Sacramento that changed their movies every day or two. I used to love to go there,” says Ross. 


While the yet to be Magic Theatre was still being formulated, Ross and some friends started the Nevada City Film Festival. The first year they brought up Frank Capra director of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the second year they brought up Vincente Minnelli, father of Liza Minnelli and ex-husband of Judy Garland. 


“When we brought Frank Capra up, we held a special showing of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at the Nevada Theater and the standing ovation Frank received went on for at least 10 minutes when he walked on the stage after the movie,” says Ross. “I stopped doing the film festival after the second year to open the Magic Theatre and just never got back around to it because the Magic Theatre took all my time.” 


Standing in his 33-seat Theater on Commercial Street, Ross is screening his 4th of July holiday showing of “This is the Army” – a 1943 wartime musical film starring Ronald Reagan and featuring the introduction of “God Bless America” sung by Kate Smith. The movie comes complete with a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon to get you in the mood. Ross will be featuring “This is the Army” through the 4th of July weekend. 


“I remember thinking this is a very great snapshot of what was going on at the time in our country, this was the second highest grossing movie of the year in 1943.”


Ross adds, “There are a lot of good movies out there that people aren’t aware of and I have always liked to show the obscure ones – those are the ones I try to get.” 


Ross’s business model is as obscure as some of the movies he shows.

Most of the movies he shows, for example, are free to see. “I sell fresh popcorn, tea, soft drinks, sparkling water, brownies, cookies and make operating money that way,” he says. “Everyone is very generous with their donations aside from concession sales. 


“I’ve discovered over the years that movies I can get cheaply; I can afford to offer them for free because people really appreciate it and in turn help support my efforts through donations and buying concession items. Some movies I have to charge for because they are more expensive for me to rent, but for the most part, I try to offer most movies for free.” 


Ross also has some fun advice for younger generations. 


“I really have a lot of admiration for the younger generation, I think they are on top of a lot of stuff, but I think their pop culture can be a little superficial sometimes when it comes to movies, if you’re going to see Spiderman 12, Batman 58 or Thor 54, come on guys, there’s some good stuff you’ve never seen before – give it a shot” he says with a laugh.


So, what makes Ross tick and be so driven to make available fun, affordable, quality movie-watching for the rest of us? “I’m really into documentaries, foreign films, and the classics, I just love film.” 


For the list of currently playing movies and more information call 530-755-6677. The main movie times are generally Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., with matinees squeezed in at appropriate times (depending on the film’s running time.). The cinema location is 240 Commercial Street, upstairs over Sushi Q. To join the Manic email list, email manic-theater@outlook.com.



The inside of the 33-seat Manic Theater where Ross was screening his 4th of July showing of “This is the Army”. 

Photo by Stacy Drake-Robinson

The entry door to the upstairs Manic Theater next to Sushi Q at 240 Commercial Street

Photo by Stacy Drake-Robinson

View of the Manic Theater concession stand familiar to past patrons of the Magic Theatre. 

Photo by Stacy Drake-Robinson

Ross displays his impressive video library in the concession stand area where you can buy the movies for $1 each. 

Photo by Stacy Drake-Robinson 

Learn More

For the list of currently playing movies and more information call 530-755-6677. The main movie times are generally Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., with matinees squeezed in at appropriate times (depending on the film’s running time.). The cinema location is 240 Commercial Street, upstairs over Sushi Q. To join the Manic email list, email manic-theater@outlook.com.