The Colonial, like most old movie houses that are still standing, has undergone a couple of narrow escapes, and not from extraterrestrial ooze. It was nearly torn down a couple of times, then saved and lovingly refurbished by local enthusiasts. Same as my own local movie house, the 2,672-seat St. George Theatre in Staten Island (New York), which I co-ran in 1976. It’s closed right now, NYC being a more urban setting compared to Chester county, Pa., where the Colonial had its “soft” open on July 3. According to the facilities manager, things went fairly well. People are still uncertain; some say “...see ya when there’s a vaccine,” but others seem ready for socially-distanced viewing.
Currently showing: Deadpool, Star Wars: Episode VII — the Force Awakens, and, for kiddies, The Jungle Book. The historic original auditorium seats 658, but state Covid guidelines indicate it can’t contain more than fifty percent capacity, spaced a socially-distant six feet from each other. So you don’t have to wear a mask all the time, as, for example, when you’re munching on popcorn. When you’re coming and going and, of course, in the bathroom, you’ll have to look like a bank-robber, but otherwise you’re free in the dark. Cleaning with a very heavy duty product between screenings. Sounds good, huh?
The Colonial started its theater life as a vaudeville house, in 1903. Then, like so many live theaters, it got the movie bug and, from 1915 to the present, remained a cinema. Jim Breneman, a pipe-organ restorer took it over in the eighties, installing a Kimball organ. His death in 1992 threw everything into question, and the Colonial had to be rescued from the wrecker’s ball, by the community itself, which rose up, saved, refurbished and reopened it. Like other such operations, it’s a not-for-profit, which is why they can risk opening at 50% capacity. At the St. George in the seventies, we were theoretically “for profit,” but hardly more than a quarter full most of the time. We’d have been a great model for Covid re-opening!
Marketing director, Bob Trate, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “If [patrons] don’t [follow the rules], they’ll jeopardize not only public health but also the shared sense of escape that comes with seeing a film on the big screen. You just want to go and turn your brain off and watch a movie,” he pointed out, “and not worry about somebody coughing behind you.”
Good as binge-watching Perry Mason can be, or signing up with Disney to finally catch Hamilton, or viewing a Netflix premier, there ain’t nothin’ like sitting in the dark with strangers — as long as they’re at least six feet away. Oh, and if there’s popcorn.
1. Each year at this time, the Colonial hosts a BlobFest to commemorate its role in the iconic Steve McQueen movie. It’s big business for a small town, which usually involves a screening and street fair. At a given moment (see the movie’s trailer, if you haven’t already) , everyone in the theater gets up and bolts for the street in a “panic.” For obvious reasons, the festival will be virtual this weekend, giving the enterprising theater an opportunity to reach out to a larger Blob audience. Teeshirts available! Oh, and by the way, for those interested in the inner workings of a projection booth, circa 1958, the aforementioned trailer is not to be missed. Wow did that projectionist miss his changeover!
2. Casting about for things to do during the shut-down, the Colonial, on April 6, ran a “Punny Marquee Title Contest,” and got over 400 submissions. The winner, “The Day the Earth Stayed Home,” was posted on the marquee.
3. Here, for your perusal, are the rules and regs of movie-going for the future, as cribbed from the Colonial’s site. We’re all gonna hafta get used to this, so read up...