Little Theatre in Rochester and Smith Center for the Arts in Geneva are among independent theaters asking for a roadmap of precautions to take to open
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About 20 independent art house cinemas across the state have banded together to tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo they are ready to safely reopen.
The group of independent movie theaters are petitioning Cuomo for a roadmap that would inform them of the necessary COVID-19 precautions they must take so they can once again open their doors to the public.
Cuomo has not yet provided a timetable on theater reopenings and said in an August briefing that indoor theaters were less essential than other businesses and pose a greater risk during the pandemic.
"It’s frustrating," said Brett Bossard, executive director of Ithaca's Cinemapolis. "It's not like we're ready to open tomorrow anyway, but we want to be included and provided with adequate guidelines."
Another theater manager shared similar sentiments.
"Well to say the least, it has been a bumpy road the last few months," said Derek Reis, general manager of the Little Theatre in Rochester, in an email. "We were all ready to open one week after Phase 4 was to happen.
"Once we found out that theaters were taken out of phase 4, we were really set back. Emotionally, it left many of us drained and all of our ambition just went away. Our energy level basically went to 0."
In a press release, Bossard highlighted the inequity closed movie theaters have been experiencing when most businesses like hair salons and bowling alleys have been allowed to reopen.
"We need roadmaps to make changes to be compliant, and it will take time for small independent theaters to muster resources and to do right by patrons and staff," Bossard said.
Not receiving a roadmap soon would put several independent theaters in jeopardy considering many of them operate on a shoestring budget and were already seeing declines in attendance due to competition with streaming services and other platforms that provide convenient entertainment options.
"Many mom and pop shops are skirting by on the skin of their teeth," Bossard said.
"This set of circumstances just adds to that decline," Reis added. "For many, I suppose it could cause them to close for good."
Despite the difficulties theaters have experienced during the pandemic, Cinemapolis has been able to keep its employees on the payroll due to access to the Payroll Protection Program. Other theaters have accessed forgivable loans and financial relief as well.
Bossard added the reopening of cinemas is important to millions of New Yorkers' mental health.
"Going to the theater is an experience that is grounding," Bossard said. "It allows people to think deeply and to escape."
"I've heard from our patrons that it is something that they miss. It is something normal that they miss in a time that has been abnormal for so long."
The theater operators who have signed onto the letter to the governor include:
• Michael Hoagland, Executive Director, Bedford Playhouse - Bedford
• Gina Duncan, VP of Film, The Brooklyn Academy of Music - Brooklyn
• Krissy Smith, Owner, The Callicoon Theater - Callicoon
• Peter Finn, Chairman, Catskill Mountain Foundation - Hunter
• Dylan Skolnick, Co-Director, Cinema Arts Centre - Huntington
• Brett Bossard, Executive Director, Cinemapolis - Ithaca
• Karen Cooper, Director, Film Forum - Manhattan
• Sean Nevison - Historic & Independent Hamilton Movie Theater - Hamilton
• John Vanco, SVP/General Manager, IFC Center - Manhattan
• Brian Ackerman, Programming Director, Jacob Burns Film Center - Pleasantville
• Derek Reis, General Manager, Little Theatre - Rochester
• Carol Sadlon, President, Program Director, The Moviehouse - Millerton
• Laura deBuys, President & Executive Director, The Picture House - Pelham
• Pamela Kray, Co-chairman, Programming Committee, Rosendale Theatre - Rosendale
• Susan Monagan, Executive Director, The Smith Center for the Arts - Geneva
• Steve Leiber, co-director, Upstate Films - Rhinebeck & Woodstock