Movie theaters face challenging times

i Oct 15th 2020

By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

The coronavirus pandemic, occupancy limits and delayed movie releases have taken a toll on movie theaters throughout Northeast Pennsylvania and the U.S. with some closing and others struggling to survive.

Regal Dickson City Stadium 14 and IMAX temporarily closed recently, marking the latest blow to the beleaguered film industry. It was one of 536 Regal cinemas that its parent company Cineworld Group Plc, the second largest movie theater chain in the U.S., temporarily shut down.

The Art Haus, the downtown Scranton movie theater at 301 Lackawanna Ave. across from the Marketplace at Steamtown, also remains temporarily closed.

R/C Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 reopened in late August more than five months after it was shut down with safety precautions in place and few people came out for its opening.

Blaze Kopec, general manager of Wikes-Barre Movies 14, said attendance has been down.

“People are still afraid to come out at this point,” he said.

The selection of movies also has been limited as the pandemic substantially impacted the film industry and in-theater movie releases are still few and far between.

“There’s not a lot of product at this point,” Kopec said. “Some companies are moving out all these titles to either later in the year or next year.”

New releases playing at Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 have included “The War with Grandpa” starring Robert De Niro which Kopec said was the busiest movie last week and topped the action-thriller and science fiction film “Tenet” directed by Christopher Nolan.

According to a poll by global entertainment company 101 Studios, 46% of movie goers who saw “The War with Grandpa” said it was the first time they went to a cinema since they reopened and they cited the lack of appealing titles as the reason for their delay in going. Of those surveyed, 90% said they felt “safe and comfortable with their moviegoing experience.”

Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 also has been showing older movies like the 2017 Disney film “Coco,” the 1993 movie “Hocus Pocus” and the 2013 horror film “The Conjuring.”

“We’re just trying to get people enticed to come back in,” Kopec said.

In another attempt to attract more people, Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 has been offering private screenings for up to 25 people at a cost of $99 for older movies and $149 for new releases.

“”Since we announced it, it has been going really well,” Kopec said. “People like the option of having a private movie theater to themselves.”

With a number of safety precautions in place, going to the movies has been a different experience.

Guests are required to wear face masks as they enter, exit and walk through Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 but they can remove them when they are seated.

Employees also wear masks and plexiglass barriers were placed between them and customers at sales stations and the concession stand where they were selling popcorn and drinks.

Cleaning and sanitizing procedures also were enhanced and social distancing markers were put in place.

A reduced number of tickets are being sold per auditorium to allow for social distancing.

No more than 25 people are being allowed in each auditorium, Kopec said. Every other row in each auditorium is blocked. Showtimes for movies are limited to two a day.

Cinemark in Moosic reopened in July with a number of safety precautions like extensive cleaning and sanitizing in place as well as occupancy limits.

Like Wilkes-Barre Movies 14, guests are required to social distance and wear masks in lobbies, restrooms and hallways at Cinemark.

Cinemark has been showing some of the same movies as Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 including the new releases “The War With Grandpa” and “Tenet” and older movies like “Coco” and “Hocus Pocus.” Cinemark also has been promoting private watch parties with up to 20 guests for $99-$149. Efforts to reach a Cinemark spokesperson were not successful.

Dietrich Theater sees slight uptick in attendance

Erica Rogler, executive director of the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock, said it has been a challenging time with many new releases being pushed back and capacity limits.

Yet, staff and patrons who have come back to the Dietrich Theater since it reopened in June have indicated they feel safe with the guidelines being followed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Rogler said.

Among the guidelines, people are required to wear masks when they enter and walk through the theater but they can remove them once they are seated.

Although attendance is lighter than previous years because of the capacity limits, Rogler said, “We have seen a slight increase in attendance over the past few weeks and we see more new people coming back to the movies.”

She said the Dietrich Theater has been focused on providing a variety of entertainment options at this time from new releases like “The War with Grandpa” to classics and film favorites as well as musicals and concerts on screen.

“Most new releases have been pushed back but there are so many classics and repertoire films out there to play that we’ve been having fun sharing those on our big screens,” Rogler said.

The Dietrich Theater has been showing Halloween-related movies like “Scream” and “Hocus Pocus” and will show “Psycho” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” this week. New action thriller “Honest Thief” with Liam Neeson debuted on Friday.

The theater also has been presenting mini-foreign and independent film festivals each month.

While Broadway remains closed, Rogler said they will bring some musicals to the Dietrich Theater screens including “Kinky Boots” which will be shown until Oct. 27 and “42nd Street” from Oct. 20-29. “Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold: concern on screen will be shown from Oct. 21-25.

“There are lots of entertainment options here at the Dietrich,” Rogler said. “Our community’s support is what is really helping us get through these unprecedented times in the industry.”