How New Orleans’ local small theaters are safely welcoming customers back from COVID-19 quarantine

It might surprise you, but the smaller theaters might be better equipped to handle the pandemic than the big cinema giants.

by Marielle Songy
June 12, 2020

While many businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most affected has been movie theaters. Because watching movies in theaters hasn’t been an option, movie studios have turned to offering movies “on-demand” at home. As a result, AMC, the world’s largest movie theater chain, which boasts three locations in the New Orleans area, announced that they might not survive the fallout from the pandemic.

As the large theater chains struggle, local small movie houses are working to ensure that they can stay in business and survive during a time when many people are hesitant about sitting in front of the big screen.

Zeitgeist Theater and Lounge is a local virtual arthouse theater that has been offering independent films and live entertainment to New Orleans citizens for 34 years. Located in Arabi, the theater was forced to close on March 16, due to the COVID-19 lockdown and reopened on May 22, at limited capacity, as dictated by Mayor Cantrell’s orders for business re-openings. Other precautions are also being taken to ensure that customers feel safe at the theater and can enjoy their experience to the fullest.

Rene Broussard, operator of the Zeitgeist, explained, “We knew it was going to take a significant effort on our part to convince people it was safe to come back out to the movies, so we made several significant improvements to the space and implemented a number of safety guidelines.”

 

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He added that these precautions include encouraging patrons to wear a mask, the installation of Air Scrubbers in each of the three AC units to sanitize and purify the air throughout the building, hand sanitizer available for public use, staff wearing gloves and masks and two seats distance between customers in the theater spaced out to every other row.

Broussard has also taken the added step of having the theater professionally cleaned each morning.  Theater seats will also be sanitized after each show. He says that since the reopening business has been slow, but he hopes the theater will be able to resume music, performances, improv and stand-up comedy programming soon.

The Zeitgeist will be showing a massive list of independent features in the coming weeks. Check https://www.zeitgeistnola.org/ for details.

The Broad Theater has been operating in Tremé since March 2016 and owner Brian Knighten reopened the theater on June 5, after shutting down for the pandemic. Although he sees that the theater experience is changing, at least for the time being, he’s optimistic about the future of the movie-going experience.

 

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“I think that once people get over the initial fear of everything that’s been happening, people will return to the theaters,” he said.

While showing big blockbuster productions isn’t currently an option, Knighten has gone the more independent route and will be showing a mix of retro and indie movie titles including new release, The Trip to Greece as well as the classics, Galaxy Quest and The Goonies. Showings of E.T., Jaws, Back to the Future and Do the Right Thing are also planned.

The Broad Theater is taking steps to keep its customers safe by requiring masks, proper social distancing and practicing contact tracing.

The schedule at The Broad is limited, but Knighten hopes to expand to a full schedule soon.

At 106 years old, The Prytania Theatre is the longest continually operated theater in the South. The theater has survived ownership changes, natural disasters and, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prytania was forced to close on March 16, and reopened in early May, in accordance with Mayor Cantrell’s Phase 1 plan for New Orleans business re-openings.

 

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Like other theaters, The Prytania is taking all proper precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks are mandatory inside the theater, large gatherings are prohibited, and high-contact surfaces will be disinfected every 30 minutes. Detail cleaning of the theater will occur overnight and checked before opening. All surfaces will be cleaned using EPA approved cleaning products and viral resistant sanitizers. To further reduce interaction, online purchase of tickets is recommended, but not required. When in the theater itself, social distancing is to be practiced and every other row will be skipped.

Because big releases are currently limited, The Prytania is showing classic movies nightly. Purple Rain, Harry Potter and The Goonies have been screened with other classics planned for the coming weeks.

Marielle was born and raised in New Orleans. She thinks it's hard to grow up there and not let the culture and history of the city become part of you. Whether it be the jazz, food, of fabulous architecture, she thinks most would agree that things are a little spicer down here. You can reach her via email at [email protected]

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