Movies

The Fox theatre, operating in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood since 1914, sees light at the end of the pandemic tunnel

It’s been more than a month since the venerable Fox Theatre reopened its doors and, not unexpectedly, it’s been a challenge.

The 251-seat, single-screen theatre can only operate at 50 per cent capacity while under physical distancing guidelines.

“There’s no way to hit 50 per cent with social distancing, so the capacity is substantially reduced from what it would normally be,” said co-owner Andy Willick. “So far it’s been OK. We’re not anywhere near regular revenue, which is to be expected at this point.”

But Willick is cautiously optimistic, despite two major issues — the dearth of new films being released since the pandemic struck and the ongoing reluctance of moviegoers — that the theatre, open since 1914, has a future in the Beach community. That’s in large part due to the “community engagement” efforts that staff have undertaken throughout the long lockdown.

“We came up with different ideas as to how to generate revenue and to keep people engaged with the theatre during the closure. It was boring for everyone, so we did anything we could do to keep people interested,” Willick said.

In April 2020, patrons were offered a chance to have their names embossed on plaques to go on every one of the theatre’s seats. Despite the $150 fee, plus tax, the seats sold out within a few days.

The theatre has also rented out its marquee for special occasion announcements of all kinds.

“It’s been a lot of anniversaries and birthdays. We even had a couple of marriage proposals,” said general manager Kristal Cooper.

On Saturday nights, the theatre’s concession stand has been open to the public, selling fresh popcorn, beer and other items. Fox-branded merchandise was created — including T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and past-event posters — and proved to be popular with patrons.

Since reopening for indoor screenings on Aug. 6, the theatre has offered audience members the chance to rent the theatre for customized parties with choice of film.

One couple rented out the theatre to watch the first film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; three teenagers booked it for an Andrei Tarkovsky film — which Cooper found “hilarious” — and there have been larger groups of between 10 and 20.

“The community has always been so involved with the theatre. We are always looking at ways to stay engaged with the community,” Cooper said.

The Fox did reopen between August and October of last year before shutting down again. Cooper said patrons were not as comfortable back then in the closed indoor space of a movie theatre. Fortunately that is changing.

“I think that the implementation of the vaccine passport should be positive in terms of attendance,” Willick said, referring to the provincial system that is coming into effect on Sept. 22.

“There’s been a lot of concern from customers and people have been reaching out about what we’re doing in terms of checking people from vaccines,” Willick said, adding that all theatre staff are vaccinated and safety protocols are in place.

“I’m looking forward to the fall and winter. People are coming out of a period of being very isolated. As soon as people are feeling comfortable, I think we’ll see them coming back.”


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