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BCHS teacher, actor leads latest effort to bring Tos back
Dr. Joseph Frew-Miller
Dr. Joseph Frew-Miller at the entrance to the Tos Theater in downtown Pembroke. Photo by Jeff Whitten.

Pembroke had a movie theater from the 1930s to the 1970s and for years has been trying to bring it back to life.

This time, those involved in the effort say, could be different.

This time it could work. Spearheading the latest attempt to save the Tos Theater is Dr. Joseph Frew-Miller, an actor and teacher who heads up Bryan County High School’s media and film studies program.

Here’s a Q& A with Miller on the latest push to bring back a piece of the city’s history.

Q: First, this is two stories in one. The theater restoration and the BCHS film program. How did the latter lead to your involvement in the former?

A: When my film students completed their first film in March of 2022, we had no place to show our work. I asked around and talked to the mayor, asking if there were any venues in Pembroke. She stated that Pembroke currently does not have a theatre or a center where movies can be shown. She stated, however, that Pembroke owns the old Tos Theatre and has been trying for many years to get it revitalized and reopened. I asked her if I could head up the task.

Q: What’s the status of the Tos restoration?

A: Right now, we are just in the planning phases. We have had the land surveyed, title searches performed, hazardous materials studies done, and are now undergoing architectural studies and designs. We had an abatement team come in and remove the lead paint so that we can check the structure completely. Lott & Naugle Architects of Savannah are completing the designs.

Q: What’s going to happen at the Tos April 14?

A: On April 14 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. we are having a community open house and fundraising drive. The community can come in, grab a complimentary bag of popcorn, see artifacts saved from the theatre, watch a video produced by Bryan County High School Digital Media and Film that interviews community members who recount their experiences in the Tos.

Q: What’s still needed to make to Tos restoration happen? How can people help?

A: Money. Plain and Simple. Money. The estimated cost of this project is $3 Million. While we are tirelessly seeking grants for which to apply, there are no guarantees that the theatre will be funded completely through grant funds. We have set up a checking account and a PayPal account for donors to give.

Q: What kind of support have you had from the city of Pembroke?

A: The city of Pembroke has been tremendous in our efforts to revitalize the theatre. They have provided funds and labor to produce the surveys and hazardous materials studies. They also provided matching funds to go with the Fox Theatre Institute Grant so that we could complete the architectural designs and construction plans.

Q: Restoring the Tos has been a back burner project for a long time. It seems to have more support now than it’s had in the past. Why do you think now is different?

A: The people who went to the Tos are quickly slipping away from us. They see the need that Pembroke has for entertainment and activity for their families. We are also racing against the clock to be up and running by the time the Hyundai plant is opened. There will be a sudden increase in families moving into the area. Those employees and their families will be within a few miles of Pembroke. Those people will need places to go and things to occupy their time. We want Pembroke to be the hub of activity that brings them in. We see the theatre as being the catalyst that brings more businesses to main street Pembroke.

Q: Please give a brief history of your film program at BCHS. How long has it been running, how many students, what sort of films have they produced, how have the films been received?

A: The film program at BCHS started fall of 2021. Since that time we have produced six short films. Five of those films are just now being entered into festivals and competitions. The first film, A Country Funeral, was very well received. It was shown in London at the First-Time Filmmakers Sessions where it won first place in the social media round. The film has also won awards for script writing and has been included as Official Selections in numerous other film festivals around the country. Our program hires professional actors for our competition films. These actors graciously provide their time, talent, and expertise for nominal to no pay. We make sure they are treated well, fed well, and always go home with an appreciation gift.

Q: Why is it important to promote the arts such as filmmaking in school?

A: The world is running on entertainment right now. Georgia is a booming hub of cinematography. As an actor, I can live in Georgia and work in Georgia easily, and opportunities for actors to be in major films are increasing. With the increase of activity and jobs, I need to be preparing my students to easily transition from the classroom to the movie set. I teach my students in the methods and practices of real film sets. That’s why it’s important for me to be on set acting, directing, or working set as often as possible in my spare time.

Q: At the end of the day why should the Tos be restored?

A: Pembroke needs it. Pembroke needs something for the community, the young people, and the community that is about to move in. Our residents are having to drive 30-40 miles to see films, see theatre productions, to have a space to dance, act, tell stories. It’s time to bring that home to Pembroke.

We have the ability. We have the passion. We have the location.

Q: What are the plans for the TOS once it’s restored and reopened to the public.

A: The Tos will be a fully functioning movie house as well as a stage for dance, theatre, comedy, vocal talent, pageants, art exhibits and more. We want to be a hub for culture, not only movies.

Q: Who will own and operate the theater once it’s back in business?

A: The city of Pembroke will maintain ownership of the building itself. A board has been formed to drive the renovation. Another board or subset of the current board will be created to oversee the operations. That board and organization will operate as a tenant of the building. But it will be the lifeforce behind the theatre.

For more information about the Tos theater restoration project or the Bryan County High School film program, email Dr. Miller at

A rendering of what the restored Tos theater could look like
A rendering of what the restored Tos theater could look like.
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