An Ode to Local Theatres
By: Lorraine Rinaldi, GIFF Intern
Covid-19 has certainly had a huge impact on the film industry with many film festivals, GIFF included, going virtual, filming coming to a halt, movie theatres closing, and of course the growing importance of streaming. Despite these hurdles, our beloved local theatres like the Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT and the Prospector Theatre in Ridgefield, CT have remained committed to spreading the joy of film in our communities. We spoke with Louisa Greene, the Director of Development and Marketing at the Avon Theatre, and Valerie Jensen, the Executive Director of the Prospector Theatre, about how each of these theatres has been staying active during Covid-19 restrictions, and what makes them so unique.
The Avon is a non-profit theatre that originally opened in 1939, making it one of the oldest theatres in the area and giving it the much-cherished old-fashioned movie theatre feel. Although the Avon had to temporarily close during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, they remained active by doing virtual screenings of films via streaming. However, they opened back up on June 26th and are currently open seven days a week showing brand new movies! Rest assured that the Avon Theatre is a safe place to go even in the middle of a pandemic. The Avon Theatre follows every safety protocol: masks are required, everyone gets their temperature taken with a touchless thermometer, every other row in the theatres is closed off, and there must be three empty seats between each party. In addition, there are two hours between each screening for the screening rooms to be cleaned. They recently installed a new, state-of-the-art air filtration system. Although Covid-19 has been difficult on theatres, the Avon has benefitted in some ways since they are one of the few theatres open. As a result, some distributors have rented out the theatre for private screenings in order to fulfill specific qualifications for Oscar considerations, thus, the Avon got some films that would normally have gone to an AMC. Although the rapid growth of streaming is a rising concern for many movie theatres right now, the Avon is hopeful for the future of their theatre. As Louisa Greene put it, the Avon is a “community supported theatre” but most importantly that the “desire for a sense of community, in person experience will skyrocket when the pandemic is over” and “the need to be enriched through the arts for a cultural hub will sky rocket where people will be hungry to have their spirits uplifted whether it be through cinema or plays or other types of entertainment.” The in-person experience that the Avon Theatre offers is part of what makes it so unique. For example, the Avon holds many fascinating Q&A events, most notably after showing the film Central Park Five they held a panel with the director Sarah Burns and three of the five inmates who were wrongly convicted. Similarly, the Avon partners with nonprofits and cultural centers to show films that cater to different organizations and help spread important messages. Perhaps the best part of the Avon Theatre is the vibrant community within it. Louisa Greene explained, “Going to the Avon is like going home thanks to our loyal supporters. Much of the Avon theatre staff is very knowledgeable about films and the patrons often hang around after watching a film to chat about the movie with strangers.”
According to Greene, “People have met and fallen in love at the Avon. A couple just got married at the Avon – they met there and wanted to get married at our theatre.” The Avon is a special place in Stamford where people can come together in their love of film – something that streaming and chain theatres will never be able to replicate.
With the mission of employing adults with disabilities in a meaningful way, the Prospector Theater is also a unique, non-profit theatre. Valerie Jensen explained that they employ over one hundred people, [and] 75 percent of Prospector employees self-identify with disabilities. In addition, the Prospector also provides Sensory Screenings where movies play at a lower volume, dimmed lights, and viewers are allowed to walk around and talk to one another. These Sensory Screenings make movie-going much more accessible. Another exciting aspect of the Prospector Theater is that all of the content shown before the films is produced in-house by Prospect Productions. Like the Avon, the Prospector had to close temporarily in March 2020, but reopened in June. Throughout the lockdown though, the Prospector provided online classes and events for their employees to stay active and connected. Once the Prospector opened back up, they put in place many safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. For example, their renowned Clean-Team works even harder to keep the Prospector sparkling, they cut capacity to less than 25%, installed plexiglass at the box office, concession stand, and café area, seat parties far apart in the theatres, installed touchless pay, take everyone’s temperatures, and put markers on the floor six feet apart to ensure that everyone is socially distancing. Now, the Prospector Theater is screening new films such as Tom Hank’s News of the World, The Little Things, and The Marksman, along with some special screenings of classics like Remember the Titans. While Jensen acknowledges that the “future is streaming,” she was upset by Warner Media’s decision to bring their 2021 films directly to streaming due to Covid-19. However, she still has confidence in the Prospector. As Jensen put it, “Streaming content at home is very affordable and accessible, but nothing beats the social, cultural, and shared experience of seeing a movie on the big screen, hot popcorn and icy soda in hand.” Furthermore, the Prospector is already being innovative and expanding on the movie theatre experience by providing engagement guides. Jensen explained how “these engagement guides include activities such as costumes, lobby artwork, balloon sculptures, speeches, games, dances…everything to promote engagement and interaction between audience members and our employees.” She believes that more movie theatres will have to follow the Prospector’s lead and provide full movie watching experiences in order to stay successful in the age of streaming. In addition, Jensen sees the potential positive side to more of the big-name films going directly to streaming because now more movie screens will be available to show up and coming filmmakers’ work.
Both the Prospector Theater and the Avon Theatre are inspiring community staples that showcase why seeing new films at a movie theater is an irreplaceable experience. Please support these beautiful local theatres and safely watch the latest films at either the Avon or the Prospector!