For almost four months, the silver screen at the Normal Theater has remained dark. The seats have been empty. And that enticing scent of popcorn has been conspicuously absent.
The theater staff hopes to reopen the historic theater, but they have to do it right, said Adam Fox, Civic Arts Manager for the Town of Normal.
“What is more important to us than when we reopen is how we reopen,” Fox said. “We’re making sure that everything we need to do to open safely, to make sure that we are giving everyone the best possible cinema-going experience, while still considering patron’s safety and comfort during these obviously uncertain times is what’s driving everything that we’re doing now.”
Fox explained the Normal Theater will look and feel a little different when people return for a night at the movies. And that starts with assigned seating.
“You will have to select your seat and those will be socially distanced appropriately. You can purchase your ticket online and select your seat there. That’s the easiest way to get the seat you’re looking for. You’ll also be able to select your seat at the box-office.”
The Uptown theater is migrating over to new software to help to streamline the new ticket and seating operation.
Patrons also will be required to wear masks anytime they are moving through the theater, said Fox.
“We don’t want to do away with concessions, since that’s a major part of the movie-going experience. So, it’s that delicate balance of mask versus popcorn. We’re approaching it almost like the way you approach a seatbelt on an airplane. You’re going to be required to wear a mask anytime you’re up and moving through the theater. But when you’re in your seat, we’re going to highly encourage that you wear your mask at all times.”
“But if you’re consuming concessions, that might be a time to take it off.”
The concession stand also is under scrutiny and will change locations in the theater, plus the management is altering how items are packaged for consumption. Rather than scooping popcorn into an open container, Fox said movie-goers will be able to purchase popcorn in a pre-sealed box.
“The boxes have exactly the same amount of popcorn – actually, it’s a little bit more than you get in the cup. We’re going to be doing bottles of soda, rather than pouring them for people. We’re limiting the amount of handling of food items.”
The concession stand is being moved to the lobby. Previously located in the back left half of the house, Fox said that location would make social distancing difficult for patrons.
As for a reopening date, Fox said that’s yet to be determined.
“At this point, there is a lot of work that we’re doing to facilitate these changes. It’s a process and we really want to focus on doing it right. We’ll announce more, including what titles we’ll open with, as we get closer to knowing when that is.”
During the months the theater has been closed, movie fans have still been able to enjoy a variety of independent movies and documentaries with the Normal Theater’s Living Room Film Festival that allows patrons to purchase streaming access to films that would normally run on the big screen at the theater. Even with the theater on the verge of opening its doors again, Fox said it’s quite possible the online screenings may continue.
“It’s actually been a great thing for us. It just so happened that, very quickly, distributors flipped their model. Instead of having to come to the theater to see exclusive content, what if the theaters were inviting people to watch this exclusive content at home? You can’t stream this anywhere else, and if you buy a ticket to watch this film online in your home, it will directly benefit, in our case, the Normal Theater.”
“It’s been really wonderful for us in this time. We’re getting comments back from people saying that sometimes they just can’t make it to the theater to see a film they really wanted to see. So, ideally, we can have a blend of having the films both in the theater and online.”
Fox said movie fans can monitor the Normal Theater’s Facebook page, or website to discover when the theater will officially open again.
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